HFW partner Elinor Dautlich is most definitely a woman in a man's world if ever I met one. She is commandingly feminine: blond and pretty, softly spoken with a cut-glass English accent, perfectly turned out and immaculately dressed with a wonderful line in smart coloured leather jackets (more of that later... the day I met her she was resplendent in a lime green one). At the same time she is the true market leader in one of THE most male-dominated areas of the law. I'm not just referring to her role as a corporate partner in the world's top maritime law team, but more the fact she's an expert in an even more macho legal niche: maritime security and armed guards. She has been heavily involved in the drafting of industry standard contracts governing the use of armed guards on ships and "floating armouries", required these days to protect crews of trade ships from pirate attack.
I was particularly interested to know what had attracted her to this area of law. Why had she chosen this specialism? It can't be easy for a woman to make her mark in this area of law at all, let alone rise to the very top as Elinor has done.
"After leaving university with an English degree I started my career as a trade journalist" she tells me. She is full of surprises, as you might have guessed. "I wrote for a water title, at a very interesting time in fact: as all the water companies were being privatised. I then moved to a building title, but ultimately I wanted more of a challenge than I knew business journalism could ever give me. So I decided on law, but in that same moment I knew it had to be maritime law. My father worked for Shell and had taken me on an oil tanker in my formative years which had made a huge impression. I was hooked! Ships are sexy. The law isn't... but it does provide a good solid career path. So I set my sights on this niche, only applying to maritime firms and qualifying into transactional shipping at HFW in 1996."
As a woman running a busy (noisy) family as well as a business myself, I was curious to know how Elinor had found managing work and family, a notoriously difficult balancing act to pull off in any City firm. Surely even more of a challenge in this very masculine niche?
"I had my two sons as an associate and came back to work full time thanks to the support and flexibility from the firm, Ultimately the key is keeping clients happy rather than being in any particular working environment and certainly that's a lot easier with modern IT and connectivity". A woman after my own heart! I've often talked about the pointlessness of the "first in, last out" -type games played in some City firms, designed to set up for failure anyone with significant responsibilities and interests outside of work. Good to hear an example of a firm focussing instead on people's contribution, rather than paying attention to silly game play. HFW clearly appreciated Elinor's gift with clients, making her a partner in 2004. But I was still interested to know why she had chosen to specialise in this particularly gritty area of maritime law.
"It's partly driven by opportunity. But I have to say it helps that I'm naturally tough and I have always had a bit of an attitude: "Just try and knock me down and watch me get up again". The whole issue of private armed guards is a fascinating one too. The shipping industry has had to change its position as the piracy threat has intensified, from its starting point that arms on trade ships are generally a bad idea, increasing risk and creating more potential problems than they solve, to a realisation that they are a necessary part of protecting crews. The legal issues around them are immensely complex and that intellectual challenge I really enjoy".
Being a massive Beatrix Kiddo fan, of course I wanted to know more about those impeccably smart coloured leather jackets she wears to the office. "I just think they're fun" she smiles. Most definitely. And of course they also send out a very clear message that Elinor Dautlich is a woman not to be messed with.
Thanks to @Markomms for an excellent guide to the City's insurance district. I've known Mark for (ahem) years, as a fellow professional services marketeer. (He lists successful stints at Linklaters, SJ Berwin and Lewis Silkin on his resumé) and in 2008 he decided to develop a portfolio career and now mixes professional services marketing consultancy with Blue Badge Tour Guiding. We were the beneficiaries this week as he tutored us through a tour of London's insurance market landmarks.
Each year we invite a series of guest speakers to induct our latest recruits with talks on how the City/insurance world/financial markets work. This year we thought we'd freshen things up, by walking the walk as well as talking the talk! A much more fun way to do our learning. We lucked out on the weather too... we booked our Blue Badge tour a couple of months in advance and were delighted when our #KysenOuting turned out to be on the first real day of Spring - :)
You may remember that Kysen Account Executive Mariya Derelieva is an accomplished dancer and choreographer, inviting her Kysen team mates to a dance extravaganza at her alma mater King's College last year. She continues to dance three or four times a week and is an established member of London's salsa scene. We were chatting recently in the office about the latest movies, and Mariya casually drops into the conversation that several of her friends are extras in Nick Frost's latest dance comedy Cuban Fury (co-starring Chris O'Dowd, Rashida Jones and Olivia Colman). She would have been involved too, if it hadn't clashed with her finals.
Sounds like a good excuse for another #KysenOuting.