Lawyer by Day Podcast; Interview with Mark Tyndall

Lawyer By Day is a podcast about lawyers' hidden stories. If you are or know of a lawyer with a great story to share (and who might like to be on the show!) please get in touch: mark@lawyerbydaypodcast.com

https://www.lawyerbydaypodcast.com/episodes/2017/7/23/episode-04-kate-dillon

Transcript

Mark:

Hello everyone and welcome back. Before we get started with the show today, I would like to ask you all a favour if I can. If you’re enjoying these episodes of Lawyer by Day, it would be fantastic if you could leave us a review on apple podcast. It has a big impact on how easy it is for others to find the show and I also appreciate the comments and the support. When I first contacted today’s guest about being on the show, we figured out pretty much immediately that we were both a bit short on sleep. We were both grappling with new responsibilities and we were both searching for hacks for getting a newborn baby to sleep. Our sons, our first children, had arrived within five days of each other and it became clear that one of us wasn’t functioning so well!

No, well, I am, no I’m not, I won’t put this in the podcast, I am not…

Kate:

No, re-recording.

Mark:

…it’s still, yes, not a thing. But the other one of us on the other hand, was a top-level communicator who knew their stuff and could hit you with a pitch as quick as you could say She Lion.

Kate:

Hi, my name is Kate Dillon and I’m the founder and creative director of She Lion which is a business about beautiful tools for the modern working woman. Luxurious handbags designed to help you perform at your best and look fiercely elegant so that you can walk fearlessly.

Mark:

Kate is of course also a lawyer by day and this of course is a podcast about lawyers’ hidden stories. Kate’s journey to becoming a lawyer started, like many, on the encouragement of her parents. And very creatively, Kate’s parents used the theatre of law to get her across the line on a law degree and a legal career.

Kate:

To be honest, I always wanted to be an actor and in my family most people did medicine or law, so my parents were pretty keen on saying “Law is really similar to drama and you should become a lawyer because that would be a great way to be an actor.” So, I did a drama major in my Arts degree and then also did Law, and then really enjoyed the Law degree because there was a lot of mooting and things like that involved. And then that kind of took off. I did apply for NIDA twice and totally mucked up an Irish accent in the second round of the interviews, which is probably good auditions rather. And also found out that you couldn’t defer your law degree for the time to finish the NIDA qualifications, so ended up focusing more on law.

Mark:

Who’s idea was the Irish accent?

Kate:

The coach I think? Yes. I think I got massive stage fright because I got to the second round in the afternoon which was a big deal the second year of applying. And yes, then I totally botched it and there wasn’t really a recovery from that. Apart from applying again the next year so it was a good learning experience. Definitely all those types of failures are where you learn your biggest lessons, so it was very positive.

Mark:

Kate went on to tell me that she studied her undergraduate Law degree at Deakin University. She would go on to do a Master’s at Melbourne Law School. That she would study for and pass the New York bar exam and that she would become, of course, a qualified New York attorney. But those steps didn’t necessarily come straight one after the other. It had to start with a passion.

Kate:

I have always been very passionate about fashion as well as drama. Embarrassingly my mother would tell everyone that I have a passion for fashion which is just so cringe but really comes from a lovely place. So, at the end of an exchange in Sweden I met someone over there who was saying “You know, you can do such a thing as fashion law in New York. You should go and do the bar exam and then you can go and do fashion law in New York.” They had fashion law firms in America. And that was just like bananza. So, I started studying for the bar exam with the view of wanting to go over and become a fashion lawyer. And that’s when the real drive for being a lawyer peeked for me to be honest. I passed the bar exam and ended up going over there with my husband to look for jobs. However the timing coincided with the GFC, so it was just really difficult. All the internationals were being pushed out first, and my husband’s building qualification wasn’t recognised. So, we decided that we would come back and then in the few years following he started his business and I started mine. So, we’re fairly wedded to Melbourne now but it’s nice to have the qualification and yes, again to have just more confidence in your knowledge.

Mark:

When you were in New York and obviously with the bad timing of the GFC, what was that like? What challenges did you face going and talking to the people you wanted to talk to and seeing what was there?

Kate:

I think, to be honest, I started my correspondence in Australia and just went over there to pass the exam, and then came back. And then you wait the couple of months to find out whether you pass. And I went over there again with my husband to actually get admitted. So, you try and align your interviews or meetings with connections so to speak, before you go. And people were very welcoming and happy to meet with you but realistically all the recruiters and any friends of friends that you’re essentially meeting with or contacts were sort of giving you the “This is the situation at the moment. Realistically maybe you could get a contract position, but we couldn’t be offering you something strong at the moment because the climate is just not ideal.” And then that off the back of my husband not being able to get work, apart from maybe in a café, wasn’t that appealing for me, to work 24/7 with him having a party. Which is probably unfair, I probably should have let him do that. But we ended up going back.

The other aspect actually, I should tell you, is I went over there and was told also that I should probably specialise in fashion law before I would get a job in fashion law. So, I needed to do a Master’s in fashion law; in fact I met with a professor called Susan Scafidi from Fordham Law School who started the fashion law course; she was amazing. And I remember we had saved up to get these very expensive gumboots of all things, because it was just raining so much over there. They were like $400 gumboots that I just had to have and so my husband was very kind and let me buy them. And I was wearing them to go see this woman, thinking that I was looking pretty stylish, but when I arrived she was practically head to toe in couture. I have never felt so cheap in my life! She didn't do anything to make me feel this way; she was a really lovely person, but she was just so immaculate! And she suggested; “I think you need to do a Fashion law Masters, whether that’s at Fordham or wherever.” And that cost around 300K US plus you have to be there, you can’t do it by correspondence.

And so that was another reason that we ended up coming back, and why I did a Masters of commercial law in Melbourne with an IP focus. Fashion law is basically IP law with a bit of M&A, and a bit of leasing. She suggested I go and do an IP Masters in Australia and then think about coming back that would be helpful. And, so that’s why the Masters began in Melbourne. Melbourne Uni was, it was really fabulous, the networking opportunities were amazing. I was coming off the back of working for a really supportive partner in financial services and doing managed investment scheme, litigation, a lot of Timbercorp and Great Southern litigation. And he was fully aware that I was interested in fashion law and wanting to transition. Also the firm where I worked, they didn’t have an IP team, so he was integral in allowing me to transition to a much bigger firm with an IP practice; and doing a Masters degree was the key to being able to transition. So, the IP subjects were just so exciting, and I had always done really well with IP at Uni but hadn’t realised that I liked IP as much as I did until I did it at a Masters level.

So yes, I was fortunate in the fact that I suppose I was surrounded by really supportive people that helped with that transition as well.

Mark:

What approach did that partner take in allowing you, or actually empowering you to make that transition when, from a lot of people’s perspective in the legal profession, they’re losing an incredibly qualified, skilled, competent, well-trained, long-term lawyer to another firm? Why would they do that and what approach did that partner take in doing that?

Kate:

I think I was super fortunate, again he was just an incredibly lovely person. And he knew that if you don’t follow your passion that you won’t be truly happy. And I think I had a really solid friendship with him as well. So, he was very happy to give me some more flexible times around take-home exams that happened over weekends. And then he was also very supportive in providing references and introductions. So, he was just sort of a magical partner. They do exist. But he was very, very, very lovely to me and is still a good friend.

Mark:

You are now a knowledge and innovation lawyer. Can you tell me what that is?

Kate:

Yes. It’s the best way to be a lawyer to be honest, it’s so fabulous. I really love my role. I ended up stepping into it because as you probably recognised I’m a massive extrovert and I’m also a closet creative, which is why I ended up stepping out of the very big hours in IP to start She Lion. But then quickly realised that I probably needed to have some part time law on the side to help fund the business while it’s getting off the ground. And ultimately to continue doing both at the same time. And saw this great role that looked good at G+T and heard good things about the firm. A knowledge role, more of, kind of a precedent role, but it was just a knowledge role and writing boilerplate guides for the firm. And was hired for that.

And very quickly; sort of organically started building relationships with people in the firm because I’m not so much the type of person who goes in and just doesn’t talk and writes boilerplates and leaves. And ended up turning into more of a PSL, professional support lawyer role really, where people would come and give you legal queries that tended to be contract based because that was what I was writing about. And then they realised that I had the IP background, so I started doing a little bit more queries to do with IP and then also TMT. And then I have an fabulous manager and the partners in Melbourne are all great too. And they let me lean into the space that I wanted to lean into, which very organically moved into technology and involving lawyers in discussions about pain points; for instance where low value work could possibly be automated. And looking into different things that were on the market or whether or not we could develop them in-house.

I had a very supportive manager again, in Sydney, who has been very positive with innovation. And I’m sure you’ve probably seen in the papers, G+T over the last even three years has just really given a huge push into innovation. I mean innovation has always been in our roots but recently under the direction of Caryn Sandler we have started developing in-house technology.

And it’s been fabulous to be part of that because I’m the only knowledge and innovation lawyer with G+T. Although Caryn is also a lawyer; she is the head of innovation. All the other people in my team are knowledge lawyers or project lawyers. So, I have a great role where I can help answer legal queries, and then also work with practice groups and with clients to put together process mapping sessions, to streamline inefficiencies and see where we can reduce wastage, so it’s great. I get to use all the parts of my personality that you maybe don’t often use as a lawyer when you sit behind a desk and write contracts; which is great!

Mark:

Or maybe don’t always exist within the lawyer pool. Kate: I’m not sure. Mark: After a few more hilarious jokes about lawyers I got around to asking Kate about She Lion.

Kate:

She Lion is about empowering women to walk fearlessly; it's about handbags that are purposefully designed to carry all of your needs for work and for the weekend. Made with distinctive interiors for computers, chargers, two phones, paperwork, pens, cards, everything you need. So that you don’t ever have to go into a meeting with a client, or a board room scenario, and have that Mary Poppins moment where you pull everything out of you bag and you can’t find the one thing that you need. And you felt like you looked all organised when you came in and then you’re just a mess.

With a She Lion bag on your arm, it makes an influential statement that’s really stylish, but you walk in and you can just pull out whatever you need when you need it and then carry on! There just wasn’t a female briefcase that didn’t look like a briefcase, that I could find in the market, and also a handbag that didn’t break. As lawyers, and I’m sure you’re the same, you pack everything into the bag that you carry. But as a woman you often have your beautiful handbag and then maybe your safe-way bag full of papers because that won’t break, and then your gym bag and then your lunch box. And it’s nicer if everything matches.

Mark:

In developing the business and the idea, what came first, the notion of walking fearlessly or the practical need for the particular bags that you produce? And what is the relationship between those two things? Kate: They are entirely connected. Because you can’t feel empowered if you can't perform effectively; you must have the right tools.

I think that’s the case in anything that you do. So, the handbags are really a tool, essentially to help carry everything you need so that it’s not something you need to worry about or that’s going to let you down when you are trying to perform. It grew out of the fact that I just couldn’t find a handbag that I needed myself as a billable lawyer, to carry everything I needed to and from the office or to and from meetings or interstate. And not have to be the bag lady with a million bags.

You have this snappy suit on or this great outfit, and you have this beautiful handbag, and then often you have a really ugly bag that’s carrying all your work gear, or you have your big black padded laptop bag that’s not nice. Whereas now, you can have a really beautiful snappy laptop bag or a really beautiful snappy handbag that fits your laptop, and you chargers, and your paperwork, and everything else you need. And fits on, as hand luggage on the plane, and you look great, and it goes with what you’re wearing, and you can pull out what you need when you need it!

Mark:

I think I know the answer to this one, but do you enjoy the process of pitching the business and the products and talking about the business?

Kate:

Yes. Yes, that’s so much fun. I think sharing the story is fun. I wasn’t expecting that to be the outcome, but I think even just taking the plunge myself, which was honestly on an eyelash. You just get to the point where you’re like “I would like to pursue this idea but I’m not quite sure whether it’s the right thing.” And you just sort of take the plunge. That’s what I would say has been the most inspiring part of the journey because I’ve had so many people come up to me and say “I’ve had this side hustle and I always wanted to do it, and it was so great to hear you talking about it. Because I went out and I started something small on the side now and I love doing what I’m doing, and it’s grown, and you know. I don’t know that I would have necessarily done it as quickly if I hadn’t heard your story, and the fact that you jumped too, it’s been so beneficial to hear that someone else took a plunge.”

Mark:

What types of things hold people back at that key moment of saying “I’ve got this thing, I’m obviously excited by it. I want to do it. I can see myself doing it, but not just yet?” What is it?

Kate:

Fear. It’s absolutely fear. And I think more so for lawyers because we’re all largely perfectionists / with a fear of failure. Everything has to be correct. Everything has to be 150% for clients. There’s no such thing as you 80/20, it’s got to be perfect. So, for me it was huge, because starting a business is quite risky and we’re trained to be risk averse. So, it was a big step. But I think it’s one you can take a little bit at a time, so that you can test the waters. Just do something to start and then, you know, you get positive feedback and then you can keep growing.

Mark:

Was there a key moment where you realised there was no turning back, that the next decision you made would put you into this business and on a track to really making it work?

Kate:

I think I had decided that from the outset because of the way I’ve been trained and my personality; I’m a pretty determined person. And I think if you’re going to do something you want to give it a red hot go. And I’ve always had that in anything I do, I give it a red hot go. And She Lion was no different, so really from the outset, I went to RMIT to learn how to make bags and learned all about the construction and seams and what would be most workable for carrying heavy things. And then went and did a whole lot of AutoCAD illustrator and photoshop courses on electronic design so that I could actually create proper electronic specifications. And then made a whole lot of prototypes myself. And then networked furiously with people in the fashion industry.

Mark:

Taking a few steps back to your time at RMIT, what did you actually do and learn? What were the skills that you learned in making those bags in that course?

Kate:

Everything from scratch. There were three courses that I did, and Andrew Smith is an amazing teacher at RMIT. Truly, I would highly recommend anyone wanting to know about handbags to go and do his courses. You literally start from scratch. You draw your own pattern. You draw your own design first, and then Andrew teaches you how to draw a pattern. And then you go and source the leather you like, or Andrew can source it for you. And then he teaches you how to how best to cut the leather and skive the leather, and then how to put it together into the construction of the design that you’d like to create. And then you discuss what seams would be best. And then everything from the type of leather, literally everything you can think of, the type of reinforcement, the type of backings, the type of handle structure, the type of rivets. Literally everything you can discuss with him. And you learn about all these different benefits and disadvantages of using different types of materials. Whether they are disadvantages I suppose it depends on the purpose for the product. And then you create a handbag, or multiple, and then you come out the other end and you’ve been through the whole process. So, that was incredibly helpful to have access to that knowledge and be able to speak with someone who is a handbag construction specialist about your design. You are then armed with the knowledge when dealing with manufacturers to say “No, actually I want you to make it this way please. Because I know that this is going to be stronger.” Or “No, actually I need you to make the structure like this. And I understand that it will be more cost-effective for you to make it this way, but I need it made this way please.” Yes.

Mark:

Was that the first bag? Or are any of the first bags you made reflected in current She Lion designs?

Kate:

A few of them are actually. There’s been a couple of iterations obviously since, because I’m just about to bring out my third collection which is really exciting. But yes, there’s been a couple of iterations because I’m big on feedback, again comes back to the legal training. Always seeking constructive feedback from the customers to see what they think would work better, or what hasn’t worked, or what has worked really well. But the Rainmaker was one that I designed from scratch, and also the Negotiator was one that I designed a long time ago as well, that has sort of evolved into where it is today.

Mark:

What is your process of sourcing leather?

Kate:

Sourcing leather is so much fun. It’s trade fairs at the moment, but I think once I grow, it will be travelling more to, more and more international locations. But yes, it’s definitely travelling to trade fairs overseas; there’s quite a few wholesalers in Australia and they have some amazing leathers that they source from all over the world as well. But I find the international trade fairs, there’s just levels of buildings of leather providers from all over the world that come to the one place, where you can go and touch and feel and pull and stretch and negotiate and yes, that’s fabulous. But also, the factories can also source things for you on your behalf as well. So, there’s lots of different ways.

Mark:

Has it been a challenge developing and maintaining relationships with manufacturing facilities, particularly overseas when there’s always particular risks in running processes? Kate: Absolutely. Mark: And doing that in other jurisdictions.

Kate:

Absolutely. Yes. I think you don’t want to do business overseas unless you can afford to go over there at least two times a year. Particularly in China. I work with a couple of amazing artisan manufacturers that make other high-end, well-known bags, so I’m very fortunate that they were willing to take me on. Because it’s very different to Australia. In Australia in the service industry everybody is willing to help you and take you on as a client if you are able to pay. Whereas in China, particularly with the high-end manufacturers, you literally have to go over there with a PowerPoint and a pitch. You have to demonstrate how much exposure you have, your forecast and future plans; they then decide whether or not they would like to work with you, rather than you deciding that you would like to work with them. You obviously source them out and say, “I’d really like to work with you because your quality levels are amazing and everything that you make is beautiful.” But you then have to pitch to them so that they’re willing to take you on.

Mark:

Are there pitfalls in that process that you have seen, that you were able to manage or get around? Because obviously you have succeeded in doing that.

Kate:

Well, I now work with six different factories that have specialties in six different areas and I also have a hardware manufacturer, but I think the biggest lesson is not knowing what you don’t know. So, it was really important to me to get a logistics advisor on pretty early as well as a retail veteran who helps with strategy. Because I think I go about doing things very differently to the standard retail person and that can be both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that the people that you are pitching to, whether it’s a wholesaler or a retailer or a factory, haven’t had that approach in that way before and they sometimes think it’s a breath of fresh air. Or the alternative is that they think it’s totally not by the book and “How outrageous of you to even come and talk to us in that way.” But the benefit of it is that I didn’t know any better, so you can very quickly say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that that was what was supposed to be done.” Yes, but I do have an amazing logistics advisor who helps guide me at a much more sophisticated level to where I started two years ago in the process, as well as a retail strategist who is really wonderful with PR and generally navigating wholesale. Yes.

Mark:

The process you are engaging in when you talk about this, was that process in producing handbags ready for disruption by a business like yours?

Kate:

To be honest, I don’t know that I had ever thought about it that way, but yes. Because the pure basic fact is that the people that were designing and making handbags hadn’t walked in the shoes of someone who was using them for that purpose. And I think the people who had made the really functional bags were potentially not thinking about fashion. There’s a million beautiful, fashionable handbags in the market, and there’s a million functional handbags in the market, but there are very few that are functional and fashionable. Which is where the fierce elegance, premium practicality, bold ambition tagline that come in. So really, the benefit of thinking as both the consumer and the designer is that you’re creating a product with the consumer in mind, because I am the consumer! I essentially made a handbag for myself and then realised, after speaking with a lot of colleagues, that they also couldn’t find a handbag that suited their needs. So, it was iterative in that way, but disruptive also because people hadn’t thought of the fact that professionals maybe need to carry things that are a lot heavier; and that beautiful leather handbags, unless they are made to carry that type of weight, obviously will break. And that’s totally fine because leather is really beautiful, and it can only carry a certain weight, but if you reinforce it the right way, you can carry a lot more weight; although you still have to treat it with love.

Mark:

How do you get feedback from your customers?

Kate:

I am very fortunate that they often email me to thank me for their purchase or mention that they enjoyed opening their package - that they felt like it was like Christmas opening the bags. I don’t think I’ve ever written to a company to say thank you for the packaging being amazing. Maybe they know that I’m a small company. But that’s really lovely. Or I have people writing to me saying “Gosh, I have bought this, I bought the Negotiator and I love it and I also do this. Do you have a bag that suits this purpose, or can you make a bag that suits this purpose?” A lot of people write to me and ask about that. So, there’s a couple of bags on the way that will suit those needs. But yes, there’s a wealth of information that I receive from customers. And also, people stop me in the street and I find a lot of customers get stopped in the street now and asked about their handbag, which is terrific because that means they obviously do make quite a big statement. Almost a bigger statement than I had expected them to make. But I think because so many women were looking for a bag like that, if they are that target customer and they notice that another woman has a bag that is carrying everything they need, they say “Oh gosh, that’s nice. Where is that from?”

Mark:

I understand that the bags have made amazing headway into the legal profession. Have they appeared in places that you didn’t expect?

Kate:

Yes. Yes, a lot of, it’s not just legal, it’s definitely working woman and working woman per se. Anything from medical, teachers. Teachers in particular because they carry so many things. Quite a few librarians, management consultants, really anybody who carries technology so not even just working women; generally anyone who carries technology day to day. I think these days it comes back to the way that we work as humans and how we integrate with technology. Everything has changed. And most people carry two phones or an iPad or a computer with them all the time. So, to have a handbag that has distinctive compartments that keep all of those things safe and easily accessible is really beneficial if it’s also fashionable.

Mark:

In fashion, and handbags specifically, is it important to access and engage with particular key influencers in that market?

Kate:

Yes. But it’s quite difficult with my target market because my target market is not on social that much normally. A little bit like me I suppose so I don’t know how much they are on Instagram. Maybe the younger working woman. But I suppose the idea around She Lion is that it’s aspirational and it’s supposed to pick up on suiting the woman that has already made it and is at the top of her game and would like a really beautiful handbag to just help her perform. But also speaks to the woman who is just starting out in the working world and you know, is something that is going to make her feel confident and walk fearlessly in her pursuit of her career. And really take on that bold ambition mindset, so that she’s got a beautiful bag and she knows that she can also be that woman at the top who has made it.

Mark:

What does the week of a knowledge and innovation lawyer and the founder and creative director of She Lion look like?

Kate:

It’s different every week which is what I love. But She Lion sort of goes all the time so She Lion tends to be a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before work, Wednesday after work, Thursday before work, Thursday after work, Friday before work, Friday night, Saturday. Sunday hopefully I can take off. I have an incredibly understanding husband. And then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday during the day is definitely law firm focused. And I have to keep them separate like that. But that’s why it works I think. Being able to switch between the two refreshes both roles and I think they dovetail into each other really nicely because I’m in that space working with those people who use my product. And then I’m also working in that space myself and getting that intellectual stimulation of still being a lawyer and being within the legal profession but also being on the frontier of that technology and how technology is advancing law and how law is changing and moving with technology. So, it’s great because you have most of the week where you are running a business, which is totally different to being a lawyer, and you are being more risky and you are being more commercial. But then that helps with the black letter law side of things where I’m advising on legal queries relating to contracts and it’s very, very black letter law. Or then you are talking about innovation, and you are either talking with clients or with practice groups where you are really bringing that commercial knowledge in from running a business, to help streamline productivity and make sure you are removing any areas of wastage so that things can be done as efficiently as possible.

Mark:

Is there a different feeling around turning up to work in the office and having a reasonably large team around you compared to what I imagine is forging out largely on your own for the rest of the week, in trying to make this business grow?

Kate:

Yes. Well, I am very lucky again, because I have these advisors that I can soundboard with and I also have an incredibly supportive family. So, I do tend to use some of their support at their offices, which has been fabulous. And my husband is a star as well. So, I definitely am beyond totally forging it on my own. I do have support with She Lion. But yes, it is very different from going to a law firm where you have that infrastructure around you. And you have a whole team and you have different groups that you can essentially delegate to, who can help get your work done. Because I don’t have as much of that at all with She Lion. But I’m going to make sure She Lion grows to that point so that it will be like that.

Mark:

When you were starting, you said before that when you were starting the business you were clear from pretty much the beginning that you were going to throw yourself in to this and make this happen. At that point, did you define what success would look like and what failure would look like?

Kate:

I didn’t define what failure would look like because I’m very much a glass half full person. But I have as I say, a very wonderful advisor and she said, pretty soon after I started, “You have to come up with a legacy statement. You have to write down what the company is going to leave behind when you die.” And that was intense. But that was the best thing she could have possibly said to me because then from the outset I was thinking really big. And I was writing, you know, I want this to be huge and I want it to be so that everybody, all women and men are equal and there’s no gender bias or anything at the end of the day. And She Lion is a world-renowned handbag company that makes, you know that invests in personal development for women and really gives back to society and empowers women to walk fearlessly. And runs all these amazing events that help women to feel really confident and do whatever they want. And it was this really detailed legacy statement; from then on, every decision you make is pinpointed with that big vision that you have written down. So, there wasn’t, I mean of course you have failures along the way, that’s what makes you learn, but to have something quite strategic that is massive means you align all your decisions with that massive projection. And I think that helps you build faster and it also helps you when you are talking to people because that is just where you’re expecting to go. Whether or not you get there is separate. But if you are looking to that all the time, and all your decisions are aligned with that big picture view, I think that you think larger and then you do larger, and people believe in you more. Because you believe in you more.

Mark:

How did you come to the items in your, all the kind of themes in your legacy statement that weren’t to do with the product or the market specifically that was buying your product? How did you come to have those much broader and pretty powerful things in your legacy statement?

Kate:

I think the brand has always been about heart for me and it was always more than just handbags for me. I always wanted to make a difference. So, creating the legacy statement was really about defining what fierce elegance means, what premium practicality means, and what bold ambition means. So, that really took weeks to be honest, and you can see it on my site if you want to have a look. There’s dot points under each one that were very, very carefully thought out. But that is really how the brand developed this whole other side, which I think is more what She Lion is about; it’s a lot more than just handbags. It’s about women being empowered to be their best in any situation and not having anything let them down. And having a tool that can enhance their ability to perform, that doesn’t affect anything aesthetic. Because everything at the market at the moment tends to do that.

Mark:

Are there other changes that need to occur? You have developed and invented, doing an amazing job and getting these products out to the market that do those very things. Are there other things that need to change in the legal profession?

Kate:

Bags?

Mark:

No, things, I’m actually thinking more about women’s role in the legal profession. And what needs to change in the future. Like not, you have been talking about your brand and the tool that has a significant impact on that very thing.

Kate:

Yes.

Mark:

It’s a part of your mission statement.

Kate:

Absolutely.

Mark:

And the legal profession is one that’s not necessarily been the best at actually promoting women generally in the workplace. But then promoting the amazing kind of people that we have in the legal profession and what they contribute to our profession.

Kate:

I think that is true to a lot of professions at them moment, and I think having women on boards and promoting women is a topic that has very much come to the forefront in this day and age, and so it should. Law firms in particular tend to be a bit behind the eight ball. Again, G+T is not; they have been terrific in enabling me to work part time and very flexibly, have a handbag business, and now a baby as well! They’re not behind the eight ball, they are very much ahead of the game and there are so many female partners that can work flexibly and work part time, which I think other law firms need to start implementing more of. I don’t know, I can’t speak from experience on behalf of other law firms and what they’re doing, but I know G+T is really fantastic with supporting women and promoting women. And I think we have the most female partners in fact, in the market at the moment. And definitely win the award for women’s choice employer and I can definitely back that, they’re great to work for. But there needs to be more of that throughout business I think. Because it’s hard for women if they decide to have babies, how to keep progressing because you do have to take that time out. You can’t keep working at that same pace if you are going to have children. And then just generally I think being treated equally and being paid equally and being judged on merit generally needs to be something that is a standard. While we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go - but it’s all heading in the right direction because it’s all in the media at the moment and everybody is definitely thinking about it regularly. It just needs to be implemented across the board more.

Mark:

Is becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business a way of short-circuiting some of those limitations that you see, in particular big institutions like law firms? Can you just walk around some of those challenges by being an entrepreneur or is the world of small business and start-ups…

Kate:

Just the same.

Mark:

…the same?

Kate:

Just the same. Yes, just the same. I think so. Because, yes I think so, I have definitely come across situations where because I’ve been a women someone hasn’t taken me as seriously as maybe they should. Or even just instances culturally which is different again, but in terms of taking my husband with me to a negotiation where he doesn’t actually say anything, he just sits there and frowns, has been very effective. But yes, I think it’s a bit about taking the bull by the horns and just going in there and saying, “Hey, I’m not having any of that. We are going to do it this way, and I’m the one you are negotiating with.” And you know “We are going to create a win-win solution and let’s knock this out together.”

As an entrepreneur anyway, that’s the mindset that I have. But in a law firm I think it’s about having open conversations. I think sometimes it’s quite scary to have that conversation and you need to be comfortable enough but also confident enough to say “Hey, this is how I’m feeling, I think this would be fair.” Or “I think this is unfair.” And then having the employer listen to you and work with you to find a solution or a flexible arrangement or whatever the case may be, whatever the solution is. And it’s, I suppose whether or not the environment you are in is welcoming to that type of approach, where G+T is very much welcoming to that type of approach and they very much lean into the situation rather than lean back.

So yes, I don’t know whether I’ve just been quite fortunate in the journey that I’ve had and the people that I’ve come across. But I think that having open communication about what you want, whether you are male or female, is the starting point because people don’t know where you want to go and what you want unless you are making that known. And the worst case is that they say no and then you decide whether you can live with that or whether you can’t. And then you make the call after that.

Mark:

If a lawyer is thinking about forging out and starting their own business or developing something that represents a bit of a risk for them, what advice would you give them?

Kate:

Do it. Yes. Do it. Probably don’t quit immediately but definitely take some baby steps and put your toe in the water and just start. You’re not ever ready and particularly if you are talking about a lawyer doing that. Nothing will ever be perfect, and everything will always be continually perfected. So, you won’t ever be 100% ready, you just need to start. You just need to go and do something. And then you will feel more confident with what you are doing and then you can refine. And, that would be my tip. And also ask lots of questions and do get support from people because there is no weakness in saying you don’t know. In fact, I think that is very powerful. People like helping people, which has been a massive eye opener for me. I can’t believe how many people that I didn’t know very well were willing to go above and beyond to really help because they think it’s fabulous that you’re doing what you’re doing and they then do amazing things for you.

Mark:

Do people need to have belief in your product or is it belief in your conviction for your business to be able to help you? What is it that allows them to be so open and helpful?

Kate:

That’s a tough question. It’s probably a mixture of all of those things. I think sometimes it’s them seeing some of themselves in you. I think sometimes it’s that they’re so thrilled that you’re so confident and enthusiastic about your idea. I think other times it’s that they totally identify with the problem that you are willing to solve, and they would like one of the products and so they’re like “Yes, I will definitely help you and then maybe you could give me one.” And then other times they’re just really benevolent and they just want to help and they’re just really nice people and they’re seeing you at the end of their career. And they’re wanting to give someone a leg up because they’re just lovely people.

Mark:

What’s next for She Lion? Is it simply more steps towards achieving that legacy statement, that legacy vision?

Kate:

Absolutely. I think that’s always going to be part of the evolution of She Lion. But She Lion, like my knowledge and innovation role, is very much tied into innovation so it’s about bringing out innovative handbags consistently each year. Eventually each season, but each year at the moment. We are trans-seasonal at the moment. And then also incorporating different things to suit women’s lives. So, the new collection which is very exciting, has some baby add-ons which can be interchangeably added to your work bag, so that your work bag still looks like a work bag.

So essentially, I’m just making handbags for myself. But yes, it’s good to grow myself with the brand so that I can just keep creating more of what I need as the target market and listening to what the target market needs. And then creating more bags that suit those niche areas. I think there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of growth in there still. Yes, I probably won’t say all of the different things I want to do but there’s a long list of different things that are in the pipeline.

Mark:

You and I, for the past couple of weeks, have emailed back and forth a bit about the fact that we’ve both just become parents for the first time. How is that going, that third new job?

Kate:

Yes.

Mark:

In terms of how you think about your other two significant jobs.

Kate:

Well, it does change your perspective a lot. Having a newborn is amazingly joyous and exhausting all at once. So, I do a lot of She Lion on my phone when I’m breastfeeding at the moment. But I have a really supportive husband who shares a lot of the domestic side of having a new baby. And I have incredibly supportive parents and sister who come over and allow me to do an hour or two of work when I need to urgently do something. And you need someone to hold the baby because the baby just wants to be held because he’s only five weeks old. And you’re cross-eyed and you’ve had three coffees but that’s alright, you get there. But then I’m obviously on maternity leave from the law firm at the moment. But they’ve been super supportive as well. So yes, I suppose it’ll be a new frontier when I go back and doing law and She Lion and parenting, but I’ll let you know. How do you find it?

Mark:

Yes, it’s been phenomenal. Going back to work has been a challenge for me. At least at particular times of the day and the week. Particularly leaving the house in the morning.

Kate:

Yes.

Mark:

When my wife Gabby has not had much sleep at all. And I’ve thought a lot about the value of time. And people have, if not advised me, warned me about how to think about time and being present. Particularly as a dad in the legal profession.

Kate:

Yes. Yes, yes. That’s a tough one. I think it’s also about making sure we’re not on our phones all the time because I find it’s very easy to start sending emails or checking social media when you’re even just holding a baby and you need to be really in the moment and put the phone down and say “They’re not going to be like this for very long. You just got to look into their eyes when they look at you and enjoy the moment.” But yes, I imagine it’s exactly the same as being a dad.

Mark:

And at this point of our interview we realised that we both needed to go home.