Prue Tyler and Kate Watt are the leading ladies in a new era of legal practice. The pair are the directors and driving force behind Shift, the new kid on the block changing up the traditional law firm model. A foray into the unknown that Prue describes as ‘terrifying’.
A year in, the legal duo talk to Global Women about staying sane when the pressure’s on, the unexpected benefits of a female-led business, and juggling family and work life as entrepreneurs.
Prue and Kate are warm, open personalities, who are totally in sync. Both utterly stylish from head to toe, they laugh in unison and even finish one another’s sentences. Their background to getting here was similar too; both gave their pound of flesh – and then some – at top legal firms, both experienced discrimination because of their gender, and both wanted to inject a little more ‘life’ into that work/life balance.
So it’s no surprise that the women, who met each other as friends of friends, became tight business partners.
It was when Prue was pregnant with her third child that it really hit her. She wanted interesting work, without the 24/7 hours. A real challenge in top firms and the reason many women leave the law – an exodus which Prue and Kate both believe to be a shocking waste of training and talent.
The Stars Align
However, this obstacle was about to become an opportunity. NewLaw was emerging in Europe as a flexible alternative to the traditional law firm business model and, for Prue and Kate, the stars aligned.
Under this model, lawyers can choose when and how much they work, meaning that working parents can combine family life and a satisfying career. First and foremost, Kate and Prue focus on gathering great people around them – they say they have no need for big offices and they keep costs lean by using cloud-based apps and other technology.
In addition to legal services, the firm has a compliance arm, which applies the same model for risk and compliance experts.
A New Model of Work
It’s not just the ‘on demand’ model to access top talent that’s a selling point for clients. Their authenticity and warmth come through in the way they communicate and work. There is genuine connection with clients and colleagues, a truly collaborative approach to work, and a flat structure. “We genuinely respect and value the people we work with – and we have no hierarchy.”
In traditional firms, it’s very hard to make partner without your spouse or partner staying at home full-time – we want to change the model so that it works in today’s world. Most men and women want it all – they want to have satisfying careers and spend quality time with their families and pursue their other interests. They don’t want to make that stark choice anymore.”
The pair believes that time will inevitably bring a change for the better as the NewLaw model becomes a part of the landscape.
Letting Go of Perfection
Having left private practice where long hours are the norm, do Prue and Kate now have more time to themselves? They both burst out laughing simultaneously. ‘As owners, we can’t say ‘I can’t do that,’ they say. ‘But the brilliant thing is that our lawyers can do that, which is kind of the point’. ‘Plus it’s a different kind of on when you’re running your own company’.
Inevitably, launching a new business puts pressure on that precious balance. So how do Prue and Kate keep it together? Both swear by meditation and exercise. But don’t worry if you missed that spin class last night in favour of a night in front of the TV with a glass of wine in your hand. ‘Let go of perfection,’ they advise, ‘and always be yourself.’
As for the million-dollar question, ‘did you make the right decision?’, they answer together, unhesitatingly. ‘Yes!’