Joanna Tall is presenting at our upcoming Startup 101 courses on Feb 25th (details here) and March 2nd (details here). She  is a solicitor with over 20 years’ experience in commercial & IT law having worked both in high profile City of London law firms and freelance for  global companies  through her parent business Trading Terms Ltd. In October 2009 she founded “Off to see my” a virtual law firm with special focus on female entrepreneurs. 

My legal career started 20 years ago and as I entered a big City law firm as a junior lawyer, the long hours spent on multi-million pound deals were exciting and part and parcel of the job. Then I met my husband and my first daughter came along. Something in me changed and it was the hardest thing in the world leaving her with various nannies and nurseries. When my Mum died shortly afterwards, I decided to stop and take stock.

Two years flew past…

And daughter No.2 came along. Meanwhile the City law firms were mellowing and actually taking lawyers on a part-time basis. I found a role for three days a week. The girls were in a local nursery for those days too, so what could go wrong? For starters, it was an hour’s commute between the nursery and the office. The girls had to be dropped at dawn and collected at the last minute. I felt so guilty and invariably I shed a tear as I left them.

Then the firm started to moan and tut when I left the office even though I had done a full day. The work piled up and I was effectively doing 5 days’ work in three days and even that wasn’t good enough. I resorted to borrowing one of my daughters’ scooters so that I could shave even more time off my commute and got quite a few odd looks as I flew across Waterloo Bridge in my pin stripe suit!

Gradually I started to get more and more anxious and unhappy; I hated leaving the girls in the first place and the moment I got to the office, I had this awful sinking feeling in my stomach as I fretted whether I would get through the work load in time.

The final crunch

One day I got a call from the nursery to say that one of the girls was ill and I was to come back right away. I naively thought my boss would understand being a woman too. How wrong I was!

As I asked for permission to leave early, she completely lost her cool and exclaimed,” this is ridiculous, I don’t go rushing home every time my horse is ill!” There ensued a stand up row with her on the difference between a horse and a child and I then burst into tears and fled.

The scooter and I jumped in a cab and I poured my heart out to the poor old cab driver and it was then that I decided to change my life. Whilst I loved being a lawyer, I loved being a Mum too.

Surely the two could work side by side…

I resolved that they should. I resigned needless to say and decided to set up on my own.

I would work on my terms, even if it meant working odd hours such as from 9-3 and then again in the evening when the girls were tucked up. I offered my services as a temporary lawyer to large companies to help them out in times of overload.

To my amazement, they were perfectly happy with my hours and were simply grateful for the extra help. And so my new business as a ‘legal Mary Poppins’ was founded and it has been going strong for 7 years now.

Setting up Offtoseemylawyer

Then three years ago, I decided to start a niche, on-line practice dedicated to female entrepreneurs as I felt there were no lawyers who truly spoke their language and understood the juggling required in running a business and a family. It even has an ‘oven-ready’ document shop that is open all hours and sells key templates that most start-up’s need.

Whilst it has been a very steep learning curve, I have loved every minute. I now have a team of ‘family-juggling’ lawyers  who help me, all working from their own homes. Each day is different and all of my clients are always so full of excitement having taken the plunge to start their own businesses, it is a joy to work with them.

5 reasons to consult a lawyer before you start your business

  1. Lawyers can highlight what your risks are and how to protect yourself.
  2. Written agreements will spell out all eventualities and avoid misunderstandings e.g. when you expect to get paid!
  3. You can limit your liability whereas with no terms, your liability is wide open.
  4. By law, website owners must have certain information and specific terms on their website or else they could face big fines and trouble from Trading Standards.
  5. You will sleep well at night knowing that all risks have been thought through!

If you’d like to hear more from Joanna Tall, there are still places available on our upcoming Startup 101 courses on Feb 25th (details here) and March 2nd (details here)

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