Friday, 15 August 2014
Various members of the Kysen team will be taking over Clare’s blog during the summer period. This week, Account Manager Nick Croysdill finds out how planning a Barry Manilow-themed birthday party is all part of the job for new partner at Kent law firm Brachers, Kelly Duke...
Law firms are often challenged to demonstrate their commitment to equality of opportunity, with the number of female partners serving as a regular benchmark. Kent firm Brachers, believes neither sex nor background need be barriers to progress - just witness newly-promoted partner Kelly Duke who joined the firm as a trainee secretary 20 years ago and today heads up a practice team of eight.
So what spurred her on to commit to all the extra hours of unpaid study? “I’ve always had a very independent streak and as my colleagues keep reminding me, I’m basically a study geek. I came top of my year during GCSEs, went onto A Levels at college and could have gone on to university but didn’t want to put too much financial burden on my mum, as she was bringing up three of us on her own. As the eldest I really wanted to share some of the responsibilities.”
Kelly enrolled in a legal secretarial course and joined local firm Brachers in 1995. Why law and why Brachers? “I did A-Level Law at college so I suppose the interest was always there – I’ve always hated seeing people wronged, especially if they don’t feel they have their own voices, and the law is a key instrument in combating this. I’m a Kent girl through and through; my family have lived here for over 500 years - my mum was an apple picker - so I wanted a firm with established roots that is really committed to the region.”
A stint in the dispute resolution team was followed by a move into private client work. Kelly enrolled on a course for the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, qualified as a CILEx fellow in 2005, and soon began specialising in work for elderly and vulnerable clients. She advises her clients on a whole range of subjects from powers of attorney, wills and Court of Protection work to benefits, care charges and continuing care – and everything in between.
“It’s such a rewarding area, and I have probably been heavily influenced by the relationship with my grandmother – we are extremely close. I’m passionate about championing the rights of the elderly and vulnerable, many of whom feel they have no right to complain.”
The experiences have been varied to say the least – from attending a hearing in the Court of Protection one day to planning a 50th birthday for an adult with learning disabilities the next. “She is a big Barry Manilow fan so we themed it around the 70’s crooner, with a cake and all. While I can’t quite admit that we were all swooning to Copacabana, it was a fun night and even the local MP was spotted cutting some shapes later on.”
So what are the challenges? “It can be very tough sometimes – I have had to break the news to one elderly gentleman that his wife had passed away the previous night. He had no family nearby and was obviously extremely upset.
“It’s not like other areas of law, where the work revolves around a single transaction, so it can be difficult to switch off due to the close relationships. Balancing work with all the additional study has been a challenge, but I’m very luck to have a supportive husband. The firm has also been very encouraging over the years.
“We also constantly have to challenge people’s expectations and perceptions of legal executives, as some may feel we don’t have the requisite skills. I’d always argue that the work legal executives do at Brachers is often more specialist than general practice work. Perception is certainly a challenge within this market, but things are improving.
“Everyone here really cares about what they do – motivation within the team is never an issue. We’ve also forged close relationships with KCC, Age UK and other very worthy charities. I can honestly say I love what I do.”
With a female managing partner and over a quarter of its partnership made up of women, Brachers is exceeding some of its City peers in offering equality of opportunity - a smart business move.