Specialising in real estate finance transactions, she joined the firm as a partner in 2016, after spending 11 years at Mayer Brown.
In this insightful and candid episode, she discusses more on her impressive career journey and current work, and explains why she is such a firm advocate of boosting social mobility in the sector.
Also discussed is:
- Why banking and finance law is surprisingly similar to the BBC/HBO show, ‘Industry’
- Why lawyers should learn to embrace the sales element of the job
- Navigating a demanding career and being a mother
- Why being client-focused is key
- How becoming a partner hasn’t quelled her ambition
Rob Hanna (00:00):
Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Hanna today. I’m delighted to be joined by Jayne Backett. Jayne is a banking and asset finance partner at the leading UK law firm. The Old Fisher where her practice specializes in real estate finance transaction. Jayne has a deep experience mentoring and training junior lawyers, and is passionate about diversity. Jayne previously contributed as a columnist to the above the law, where she wrote about a number of topics, including her perspective as a female partner and working mother at a large firm. So a very, very big welcome Jayne.
Jayne Backett (00:40):
Hi, Rob. Thanks for that. Yep. Great to be here.
Rob Hanna (00:43):
Pleasure to, pleasure to have you on the show and before we go through all the amazing work and everything you’ve achieved to date, we must start with our customary icebreaker question on the show, which is on the scale of one to 10, 10 being very real. How real would you rate the hit series suits in terms of its reality?
Jayne Backett (01:05):
Oh, it’s really high. I love suits, um, a good nine and a half. I think it’s definitely one of my favorite shows.
Rob Hanna (01:13):
It’s nice for a partner to give it a high score for once. Um, I guess is that more because you’re just a fan of the show versus the actual reality, or are you one of these people who’s going to say, do you know what it gets knocked a lot, but there is some truth to it?
Jayne Backett (01:26):
Uh, they did a really good character study. I mean, a character like Louis Litt, for example, there’s definitely one of those at every law firm.
Rob Hanna (01:36):
Good stuff. So before we go through, um, your legal journey, we’d like to start at the beginning with, with all of our guests. So tell us a bit about your family background and upbringing.
Jayne Backett (01:48):
Uh, so yeah, thanks. I, um, come from a very much working class family background. Um, my dad was a builder, sadly he’s died now. Um, but yeah, he, uh, was a builder and a roofer, so he used to go out all hours and, and, you know, Christmas day I remember him working a lot, but he was also, um, you know, a bit of an entrepreneur he’d always worked for himself. He knew how to build businesses and, um, he knew how to turn properties around from sort of, you know, rundown places into something, um, much more amazing, which is such a big thing. These days you look at, you know, the renovation cult that there is out there and he was doing that, um, you know, back in the seventies when it wasn’t such a big thing to do. I don’t think so. Yeah. I mean, that’s where I probably got my interest in the property side of what I do, but yeah, I grew up, um, I went to, you know, state schools. I went to a state comp, um, down, I lived down on the coast in a place called Deal in Kent my secondary school and yeah, I mean, I had a good time down there as nice upbringing. Um, but you know, very simple, we lived very sort of simple life. Um, so yeah, thats me.
Rob Hanna (03:05):
Yeah. Thanks for that. So that totally makes sense in terms of your practice from a sort of property real estate perspective. So where did the, the legal ambition come from then? Did you always want to be a lawyer or where did that interest spark from?
Jayne Backett (03:19):
Um, I think I always really liked English. So I had, you know, as much more a words person than a, than a mathematician, which is probably typical of a lot of lawyers as well. Um, you know, we’re always saying things like, well, don’t show me the spreadsheet. So, um, so I think from that side, the words and the English side of it, the law was appealing really sort of probably took a lot of it again from my dad. I remember him suggesting that it would be a great career and also telling me that just because I was from a background where no one else in the family went to university, there was no reason that I should think that I couldn’t go to university. He was always very ambitious. Um, you know, again, back to him, but he he’d sort of dragged himself out a lifestyle of, you know, family, which were living in council houses and had, you know, been in the Margaret Thatcher generation of buying privately and, and, um, that sense of ownership and that sense of working for yourself and, and having something, um, to be really proud of. So he was very much of the view that I should not think that there were any boundaries of what I could do. So him suggesting that I might become a lawyer was, to him, you know, perfectly normal and, you know, seeing that I should be capable of doing
Rob Hanna (04:41):
Brilliant. It sounds like a real role model for you as well as a father and somebody who has always pushed you. So that’s, that’s a really nice story and thanks for sharing that. So to the more of the present, um, as you may know, you know, banking law is typically a, uh, male centric practice area. What made you choose to qualify into sort of banking and sort of asset finance?
Jayne Backett (05:05):
Um, it’s funny you say that I, I started, uh, was at Mayer Brown for 11 years and I trained there and I started my first seat in the property department and I thought given my, my background and my dad’s sort of career, I thought the property would be exactly the thing I wanted to do. And, um, I just found that actually it wasn’t quite as, um, into that side of it as the bit where I next one, which was into the banking team at Mayer Brown, where they were doing lots of international transactions, um, you know, big deals, high profile staff, making the paper working, um, culturally slightly differently to the property team, you know, banking teams, it’s sort of a slightly glitzier, I think sometimes. Um, so I was lured by lots of that I think, and I just really enjoyed my time in that team. And it was, again, it was a very entrepreneurial team. It was taken over by a guys called Bruce Dominic and they transformed it to some extent into, I think what it probably is now. Um, and it was very dynamic, so I just really enjoyed my time there.
Rob Hanna (06:16):
Brilliant. Okay. And moving, sticking to that sort of theme, um, why do you think that areas such as banking have so few female partners?
Jayne Backett (06:28):
I think it’s a tough, it’s a very tough culture. Um, and it’s, you know, when you look at the banking industry, again, that’s always been very male dominated. So your a service provider to that industry and therefore the expectations put upon you, um, come from probably quite a patriarchal place. Um, you know, the working hours of bankers, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show industry haha, yet, but it’s, you know, it’s not much so that was set in the Mayer Brown offices actually, uh, some of it, um, it’s not that much different. Um, so you are beholden to people who work all hours who expect their lawyers and their other service providers to be out, you know, in the drinking culture on the scene. And I wouldn’t say that it was in any way, not open to women to join in to that culture, but it’s difficult if you’re not used to some of that to actually break in or to know how to operate in, um, those parameters. And it’s difficult to know, you know, to not be intimidated by it, I would say.
Rob Hanna (07:43):
Yeah, that’s really good advice. And thanks for sharing that. And in terms of, you know, one of your noteable achievements is you, you also made equity at Fieldfisher, I believe last may, which is very, very exciting. And you’re now part of a small group of women under 40 that have made equity, which is a fantastic achievement. Tell us about how you achieve that. And there’s a secondary point. Um, why do you think so few women have made equity as well?
Jayne Backett (08:11):
Yeah, it’s a great question. And thank you. It is, I think back to the same points, uh, there were a theme here, which is that you have to be prepared to be networking early on in your career. Um, I think people sometimes when they’re junior underestimate the value of long term networking, you know, a lot of the people that I know or that became, clients were people that I’d met, or they were in the same network as people I’ve met 10 or 12 years before. So it’s a long game. And unless you place that value early on networking and people, um, and I’ve always been very much about it being a people business, um, and a client service business and very client service orientated, unless you have that attitude, I think it’s difficult to then one day, turn around and say, right, I want to, to be a partner and I want to be really successful because you’ve got such a lead in time to doing all of that.
Jayne Backett (09:17):
So definitely about networks I’ve learned so, so much in my, let’s say 15 years from, from being a trainee to, to now. And, uh, my temperament’s different. My ability to navigate politics is different. My attitude to how to handle crises or how to handle difficult situations is so different and even different to the day I stepped into Fieldfisher, um, four years ago, really four and a bit years ago, just, it’s such a huge learning curve. The job, you learn something every day and every week that you practice. So, um, you have to be prepared to be open-minded and resilient and constantly able to adapt and learn. I think Rob.
Rob Hanna (10:05):
Yeah, no, some really good nuggets of wisdom shared there. So thanks for that. And I love that sort of networking because that’s a key theme that we talk about throughout the show, um, and the importance of it. So it’s great that someone who’s been so successful, that’s talking about that from early on the value of doing that. So thanks so much for sharing that. And then I guess if you were to highlight one piece of advice from your own experiences, you would give to women who have aspirations of making equity partnership at a major firm, or even a, you know, a high street firm, what, what would you, what piece of advice would you give to them?
Jayne Backett (10:38):
I would say go out and read some sales books. Um, that’s exactly, sounds really corny. I’m sure, but like, that’s exactly what I did when I decided I was going to take the partnership at Fieldfisher. Um, I thought you can never be a good enough sales person. This is a sales job. People don’t like to it’s a profession, so people can be, um, you know, little bit snobby about it. But I went out and I read a few different sales books and a few different kind of management or people management type, um, books. And I think the sales aspects really, uh, held firm, for me, I followed some of the principles of what I read and those things definitely worked as a formula. You know, there’s part art, part science involved in sales and the science bit. And then the formula bit of how much you have to repeat your message, how often you need to get your name out there, how you need to use different platforms to do that. You know, how important face-to-face meetings are, um, follow-ups and all of that stuff. Um, you know, if you just take some percentage of nuggets of, of those things that read, then you’re going to hopefully be more successful than the next person that’s not following any of that.
Rob Hanna (11:59):
I’m just loving that you’ve said that because that’s talking my language obviously as a sales person and I’ve been involved in recruitment, lots of businesses. And, you know, ultimately, you know, business development is a key core skillset as any, any, any sort of partner as you grow through your career. And ultimately you need to have that fundamental understanding of how commercial sales work. So it’s really good that you kind of highlighted that on top of obviously being technically very good at the law firm and what you do, because it’s great at being very book smart, but you’ve also got to be commercial smart and turn that into conversions and winning clients, fostering relationships and all of that great stuff. So yeah, love that. So you’ve, you’ve achieved a lot, um, alongside being a partner, you’re also a proud mother. Tell us about navigating your journey, uh, into motherhood.
Jayne Backett (12:44):
Yeah, sure. I mean, um, I say this to a lot of team members that I work with and colleagues, you know, there’s never a right time, uh, in your career, in this career in particular to decide to have children. Um, although I must say that lockdown seems to have sparked a few pregnancies. Um, but, um, yeah, there’s never a perfect time because you’re always going to worry, am I going to miss out on this opportunity or that opportunity or, uh, clients and contacts going to forget about me? I think I decided that I wanted that to be part of my life, um, relatively early on. So I, you know, I tried not to, I tried to think of the career as a marathon and not to let that get in the way. And I knew that I wanted more than one child as well because I, I have siblings, but they’re 20 odd years older than me.
Jayne Backett (13:33):
So I was almost raised as an only child. And I, I missed that having a sibling relationship. So I wanted that for my children. Um, so I had to, I’ve got daughter Gracie’s 10 and a son who was eight just this week, called Zac. Um, so yeah, it’s, it’s been a happy time and I always think don’t, you know, since so many successful women, who’ve got big families, you know, three or four children, and they’ve still made a massive success of their career because you can step in and step out and then back in again, if you have the right support networks around you.
Rob Hanna (14:14):
Yeah I think that’s a really good point is almost you, you talked about networking earlier, but also as you had advanced through your career, having the right support in all aspects of your life is so, so, so important. Um, you know, it’s all sounded plain sailing thus far, but you know, in the business world it’s not, and there are lots of knock-backs and lots of challenges. So what have been the biggest challenges you faced when balancing your busy banking,finance practice and being a working mother?
Jayne Backett (14:41):
There’s lots of challenges. Um, you know, I think when I started at Fieldfisher, one of the challenges is that, um, I’d come into a new firm as a lateral hire and nobody knew who I was or whether I didn’t even know whether I would make a go of it. Um, it was throwing balls in the air. And so I didn’t have a team structure around me. I didn’t have the loyalty of people who I’d worked alongside for a long time. Um, and I had to build and earn that trust of the team as well as trying to bring in clients and service them. And I think I have to say that that was very stressful because once I did start to bring in work and it did take a little while to get going, but once I did start to bring in work, I then found that it quickly accelerate beyond the boundaries of the, the team that, um, I had around me and working out, you know, not having previously been a partner and working out alongside my other partners that Fieldfisher, how to resource these new deals and, you know, put a finger in the wind and say what the pipeline, you know, would look like and how long it would sustain itself.
Jayne Backett (15:54):
And all of those things, you know, you’re making guesstimates all of the time, um, as to how to run the business. And I think I’m sure anyone in a similar business, um, will understand those challenges.
Rob Hanna (16:07):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And thanks so much once again for sharing that. And then for, you know, um, mothers returning to work in the law, what one piece of advice would you give to them?
Jayne Backett (16:20):
Yeah, I would say, um, you know, come, come back, the thing I’ve said and I’ve shouted it and shouted it, I don’t shout much anymore, but you know, I’ve shouted it loudly in partner meetings is, you know, just get people back. I remember back to Dominic Griffis at Mayer Brown. The one thing that, you know, I’m really so grateful to him for is that when I’d had my first child, he said, just come back. Doesn’t matter how many days in, how many days you want to work at home, doesn’t matter? Doesn’t matter, Um, if you want to do one day a week, five days a week, you know, whatever you want. And I thought that there were probably hardly anybody in the city around that time in 2010 or 11 that were saying those things to their employees and you know, what an inspiration to be able to think that I had the flexibility to just come back and I think he was absolutely right.
Jayne Backett (17:10):
And he did that for many of the women in that team at the time, or through those years where he just encouraged them to step back on in whatever form that looked like. And yes, naturally inspiration. And I try and carry that through and just say to the women or the men now going out, you know, just come back. It doesn’t matter. Um, you know, we’ll make it work, but not everybody has that, you know, that much of an open mind about it or that longer term view of if you get people to step back on, they’ll probably want to do a bit more and, you know, feed back in as they can.
Rob Hanna (17:47):
No, that’s a really good point. It kind of mirrors what you were saying earlier around support. I think, you know, support comes under also, you know, supportive leadership and that is just a great example, um, of really genuine supportive leadership. And, you know, that’s done wonders and testaments what you’ve gone on to achieve as well. So, yeah, that’s a really good example. Thanks for sharing that, you know, we are living, um, in a, in a pandemic, how has the pandemic affected that, that sort of balance and how has it made it more challenging for you?
Jayne Backett (18:18):
Yeah, it’s interesting because, um, when I did go back after maternity leaves, the first time I didn’t really take too much, um, flexibility, but the second time after my second child, I ended up working two days a week at home each week and I absolutely loved it. It was the best thing ever, and it was a perfect balance and it was one of the things that made me really, um, reluctant to leave Mayer Brown. And it was, um, you know, a very tricky thing to have to weigh up about giving up to then move, to take a partnership at Fieldfisher. But, but I did that and I went back to working five days in the office at Fieldfisher for the following three and a half, four years. And then of course this hit someone now working completely remotely most of the time or the all be it, during some of 2020, I was going in once or twice a week sometimes, but, um, it’s, it’s, you know, the other extreme and, um, it’s made me really realized that I had undervalued that time in the office. And I actually like some time in the office and I liked so much the balance of, you know, two or three days, um, in, or, you know, three days into out or two days in and three hours. Perfect. In terms of managing family life and career. And, uh, five days for me working at home drives me up the wall. I can’t can’t bear that much of my own company. So the irony of seeing it all extremes, not the few.
Rob Hanna (19:56):
I think you speak for the masses there not the few. Yeah, thanks for that. And, um, you you’ve told us that, you know, social mobility is something you’re extremely passionate about as well, and something we are on the show at the legally speaking podcast. So, so tell us more about this and what does Fieldfisher do to help social mobility?
Jayne Backett (20:14):
Yeah, thanks Rob. I mean, yes, I am massively passionate about it. I think from the early parts of, of this chat, you’ll probably understand why I don’t come from a naturally privileged background. Um, you know, I had to, my parents had to work. My dad had to work really hard, um, to get us into a good position where I didn’t come out of university with any debt, but that was through pure hard work. And I’ve always had that backbone of really wanting to work, to work hard and to, you know, get to the next level or, you know, um, make something better. Um, so I think that, I think that most of the issues with the lack of diversity in the profession traditionally has been that sort of, um, issue with social mobility. A lot of people come from very different backgrounds where they’re caring for family members and they don’t have that luxury of having the space and the time and the money to go off and study.
Jayne Backett (21:14):
And so I’m hugely passionate about finding ways for people that, that don’t have the resources to go to university or to take all that time to study, to be able to access the job. And that’s why Fieldfisher, we are, we’ve just launched, um, a new apprenticeship scheme where you can come in, you know, from age 18 and train up over the course of six or so years. And you can get to the same outcome, uh, from, from there. You don’t have to have gone through those traditional steps. Um, but still we believe in that, that apprenticeship. And I think it’s likely, um, our provider would be university of law and, and we believe in the university of law to provide excellent quality of education for those apprentices. So I, it would not surprise me, especially with the apprentice levy whether, we heavily, um, you know, end up going down that route for recruiting.
Jayne Backett (22:13):
And, you know, the traditional model for trainees is changing. It’s evolving, we’ve now got the SQE to train people, um, which is sort of it for people that don’t know a form of super exam like you have in New York and theBar. And it’s different, you know, that, that was to some extent supposed to be designed, to bring about a bit more diversity and to take the pressure off of system and firms just, you know, only having a limited number of training contracts that they might be able to give out each year, creating an elitism. Now you can do two years of any kind of legal, uh, training or, you know, paralegaling, and then sit the super exam, the SQE and qualify. So it’s working out different ways to access the profession. And I really hope that over the course of the coming years, it changes the access to the profession that people
Rob Hanna (23:10):
Yeah, no, and I absolutely echo that, and it is great that you touched on the, the SQE there, um, as well, it’s, it’s certainly not come without lots of debates and discussions around the SQE, but do you sort of, I guess a fan and what are these, you know, supportive of the sq weeks? I know there has been a lot of debates on about it over recent sort of months.
Jayne Backett (23:32):
I think whenever you get sort of major changes, um, you’re going to get those kickbacks and I’m not saying that it, it won’t, and hasn’t already come without challenges. It has. Um, I endorsed the place that it, it came from. Um, I think it’s, it’s right. It’s yet to be seen, you know, how much, uh, cheaper it is to go down that route, which was, was supposed to be one of the principles, I think, but, but from an access perspective, which I was touching on just now, I think, um, you know, it, it can’t be right that you, you have to be endorsed by, you know, a small number of law firms in order to become a qualified solicitor. And, and so I am, um, I suppose, uh, promoter of that access piece. Um, and I hope that we can make it work.
Rob Hanna (24:23):
Yeah, no, well, well said, and you you’ve achieved so much. So just a couple of final questions from, from me. How do you stay motivated? Um, because you’ve, you know, you’ve, you’ve gone to equity, you’ve got a wonderful family. You’ve kind of reached where you would like to probably like to be, maybe I’m not sure, but how do you self motivate and what tips would you give to others who have probably achieved their goals and want to kind of set for future goals?
Jayne Backett (24:51):
It’s a really good question, especially with the pandemic, you know, motivation for some people is obviously, and naturally at an all time low. Um, one of my motivators was my certainly seeing people and, you know, in what I do in real estate finance, there was a natural circuit of events that we used to go to, to see people and I’d really look forward to those events and that time with clients and people in the industry. And I, and I think it’s been extremely challenging not having had that for just coming up to a year or a little bit more now. Um, and that was definitely a motivator. Um, but I think you’re right. You have to refocus. Um, I know when there, you know, uh, hopefully my, my potential, um, in lucky enough to be letting the equity, but, you know, I’m, I’m certainly far from, at the top of it.
Jayne Backett (25:45):
So that’s always, there’s always made debaters. And I think, uh, you know, I’m also, I’m also realizing that you have to have other things outside of work. I have, have probably had the downfall of, of being a little bit unbalanced in the way I operate. And I’m sure that’s the case with lots of lawyers and lots of partners. You know, you throw too many eggs into the, into the career, um, basket, because you are so dedicated to the job. And during this lockdown, and more recently I’ve realized, you know, there’s some other things that I have to focus on, you know, health and fitness. I’ve seen that in certain clients they’ve lost, you know, several stones during lockdown. You know, I’ve been very much exercise focused and, you know, trying to learn new skills. So I think, um, just trying to find balance, um, is important and maybe the pandemic in some senses has been, um, a blessing disguise in that sense.
Rob Hanna (26:44):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And you touched on it there in terms of maybe wanting to rise even further, but have you set yourself sort of future goals or plans for your practice that you would, you would, you would like to achieve?
Jayne Backett (26:57):
Yeah, that’s, there’s always different. Um, measurement done there. If, you know, it can be billings or it can be, are you ranked in this directory or that directory? And I think the main thing for me is, you know, if the clients are happy, then I’m happy. Uh, I’ve got unhappy clients and, you know, I’m usually agonizing over that. So, um, uh, my main thing is to stay client focused and to do the best job I can. And also, you know, to ensure that our team are happy because equally I really can’t do the job without the team that we have around us, which, you know, you’ll know well, the importance of, of happy teams and getting people to stay or to move, um, when they’re happy or unhappy. Um, yeah, I’m really thankful for the great team that we have at Fieldfisher. And in the banking side, they’re just exceptional. Hopefully nobody will poach them Rob.
Rob Hanna (27:53):
Hopefully not, but there’s two, two points. I would just absolutely agree with that. You hit the nail on the head in terms of, you have to become completely client centric, understanding their pains, providing them continuous solutions, really helping them. But more importantly is the second point because you can’t do that without the people. So you have to care about your people. You have to invest in your people and give them time. And so, you know, people who choose to do that will keep them retain and develop staff and do very, very well. Those who don’t and choose to neglect and put clients first, will lose staff and it’s proven every generation going. So absolutely agree with those two nail on the head point. So Jayne, it’s been a real pleasure having you on the legally speaking podcast. I’m sure people are going to want to follow or get in touch with you about some of the stuff we said and discussed today. So what’s the best way or platform for people to do that? Is it LinkedIn or feel free to shout out any web links or relevant social media, um, which we’ll also share with this episode for you?
Jayne Backett (28:53):
Yeah, thanks so much. I mean, I’m an active user of LinkedIn. I get lots of messages, especially on the graduate recruitment side and graduate work. So I do. Um, so please feel free anyone to drop me a line on LinkedIn. That’s this perfect platform.
Rob Hanna (29:09):
Brilliant. Well, thanks so much. Once again, Jayne, um, it’s been really fascinating. Listening to your journey is truly, truly inspiring. So wishing you lots of continued success with your practice and future endeavors, but for now over and out. Thanks so much.
Rob Hanna (29:26):
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Legally Speaking Podcast. If you enjoyed the show and want to help support us, remember to leave us a rating and review on Apple iTunes, you can also support the show and gain exclusive benefits, bonus content, and much more by signing up to our Patreon page, which is www.patreon.com/legallyspeakingpodcast. Thanks for listening.