Ex-City lawyer finds success is child's play

See here for an update on Lucy - UPDATE: Lucy Martin


This week we speak to Lucy Martin (formerly of Simmons & Simmons, Allen & Overy, Gouldens (now Jones Day) and Rowe & Maw (now Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw)), who gave it all up three years ago to set up Gina’s Nannies, a nanny-finding service based in Wimbledon.  The service is hugely successful and Lucy has now teamed up with Gail Hennessey (formerly of Gouldens, Travers Smith and Wragge & Co) to expand the business. 


But there’s more.  Lucy is also the founder of Wimbledon Women in Business, a group looking at the issues faced by business women, and she has co-written a book, Make it Your Business: a Woman’s Guide to Working for Herself, which is being published and comes out in September.   How did she get here and how does it compare to her legal days?


mtl:  Let’s start at the beginning – take us through your legal career.


Lucy:  I studied Russian at Oxford and, not knowing what else to do and with most of my friends going into the City, I took the law conversion course and eventually joined Simmons. 


That was the start of my 11 years in law.  I was a general corporate lawyer but, because of my French and Russian degree, I wanted to work overseas.  At Simmons this turned out not to be an option.  I moved to A&O after articles and found myself organising conferences in Bulgaria rather than working at the cutting edge of foreign investment in the former Soviet Union as I had envisaged. So I joined Gouldens, who had a new office in Tashkent, and needed someone to run it from the UK side.  It was a fantastic experience – I will never forget one particular occasion when I was visiting a juice factory in the depths of rural Uzbekistan, where they appeared never to have heard of toilets.


Having children changed everything.  That level of travel simply wasn’t an option and I took the common option of going into know-how.  It’s very tempting – earning the same salary and working fixed hours, but I ended up feeling like a glorified librarian and just didn’t feel challenged.  I felt there was much more to me than making research materials available to fee-earners.  I felt as if I had lost my way, and with a six month old baby at home I needed my work to be fulfilling and meaningful.  Compromising simply wasn’t an option anymore.


mtl: So when did you start thinking about Gina’s Nannies?


Lucy: Well, what I really wanted was to be a writer.  I had written some pieces for local papers and magazines, and even had a couple of articles published in the Times but I realised that it was very difficult to write and make enough money for childcare.  I was 35 years old and I felt that I needed to be in charge of something.  I was pregnant with my third child when I had a big wake-up call: pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs) which weren’t diagnosed for three weeks as the hospital treated me for pneumonia.  After that, I knew that if I was going to do anything with my life I had to do it there and then.  I decided that the only way to take control was to run my own business.  I had used a nanny service locally which had been ok, but I knew I could do it better.  I knew lots of nannies (having used plenty) and lots of parents who despaired about where to find decent childcare.  So Gina’s Nannies (named after my second daughter) was born.  


It was actually extraordinarily easy to set up.  I paid for a website and then started telling people about it.  Word-of-mouth has been my best marketing tool - if women like your service, they start telling other women about it.  Soon I was producing a decent income.  We've been going three years now and I've had around five to six hundred nannies through the door and about the same number of parents.  I really enjoy it.  I think lawyers underestimate the commercial skills they have and the fact that working in a law firm for a number of years sets you in extremely good stead for setting up on your own.  Clients are the same in any business – they value a personable service, attention to detail and a quick and efficient turnaround and there is no better place than a law firm in which to hone those skills.  Most of my clients are solicitors and they are really pleased to find the values they are used to in their work being applied towards their childcare – a very different but very important business.  And, from a personal perspective, this gives me so much more control over my life and a real sense of job satisfaction.


When I started writing my book I realised I needed help with the business and invited my former Gouldens colleague Gail Hennessey to join me on board.  She was a very senior property lawyer, with a big client following, but struggled with issues similar to mine: how to manage a legal career and children.  I feel incredibly lucky to have her working with me now, as I can’t think of anyone else that would have made the grade and delivered the service I want to provide.  She has been delighting our clients since she joined in December.


mtl:  It sounds all very exciting and admirable, but are law firms really that bad when it comes to marrying children with career?

Lucy's business partner, Gail


Lucy:  I think they could do more.  The bottom line is that clients are not bothered by flexible working or job-sharing arrangements.  Most would see it as progressive - an obvious and commercially sensible way of keeping the best lawyers.  But law firms still seem to be nervous about these issues.  I think the ones that really start to make it work will gain a competitive edge over those that don’t.  Why not have a dedicated member of staff who is there specifically for women?  Women’s working life is different from men’s – they are the ones who get pregnant, need time off to have babies, want different things when it comes to going back to work.  Making women feel valued rather than like a business liability would go a long way to making them want to come back to work.  Shunting them into the know-how sidings isn’t going to work for many of them.  Let them do fee-earning part time, 9-5, three days a week – shock, horror…


mtl:  Of the firms you have experienced, did any stand out as being more progressive than the others?


Lucy:  Not really, but that may have changed.  I have fond memories of the old Gouldens.  Before they merged, they were really good at making you feel valued and different from the rest.  They had a very generous maternity package, but I didn’t experience parenthood there myself.  None of the firms really stood out as offering better options for women with children. 


mtl:  Tell us more about your book.


Lucy:  Well, as I started my own business I realised that there simply wasn’t the information out there that I needed.  There are plenty of books in the shops on how to write a business plan or make a million in five minutes but women setting up in business face different issues from men and have different goals.  More than anything, they need to talk to other women in the same boat as themselves.  After exploring various networking groups and being very disappointed with what I found (men – sorry!), I set up Wimbledon Women in Business.  As this group expanded and the hunger for the education and support we provided became more and more obvious, I felt a desire to write it all down. 


 That was the starting point for the book.  I teamed up with Bella Mehta, a life/career coach, and we approached seven publishers with our proposal.  Incredibly, five of them came back with offers.  We chose the one that we thought was most on--message with what we were trying to achieve (which was not the most lucrative up-front) and they haven’t disappointed us.  We sent the manuscript in yesterday.


mtl:  Fantastic.  Mother of three, business woman and author – where do you find the time for a life?


Lucy:  It is difficult but I am in control now so I can manage it in my own way and stop when I want.  I like to spend as much time as possible with my children, and now the book is written I have promised not to spend all weekend in my office.  Running a business, I find that whatever I put in, I get out, and that really is different from working in a law firm, don’t you agree?


mtl:  No comment.  Lucy Martin, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck with the launch of the book.


You can find out more about Gina's Nannies at www.ginasnannies.com.  Wimbledon Women in Business can be found at www.wwib.org.uk and details of Lucy's book at www.howtobooks.co.uk/makeityourbusiness/index.htm.


If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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