Angela Smith loves being part of the non-traditional law firm, SLF Lawyers. The environment has given her the confidence to advocate for another way beyond the cigars, cognac and wood panelling.
Law is a very traditional, male dominated sector. Right from law school, lawyers are channelled down a path to do things the “way they’ve always been done”. To be successful, you must do what you are told and compromise on your personal life. For instance, male norms of business demand that informal meetings are still held on the golf course. Angela openly admits she does not like or play golf yet she has (attempted to) play on numerous occasions early in her career because she felt she had to. She also talks about hiding the fact she wanted to have a family because it would be a career breaker.
Today she knows that there is another way.
Angela is passionate about mentoring others and helping them get the most from their careers. This started early when she worked with young graduate lawyers. She shows them they do not have to limit themselves to the “way things have always been done”. Instead, she works to help them build their skills, so they have the tools they need to do things on their own. She believes too many are thrown in the deep end and sent out to deal with clients by themselves with very little training. Whereas Angela routinely goes out of her way to bring them to client meetings and business functions so they may shadow her and see another way of getting things done.
As the partner heading up the Sydney office, she has been able to create a haven for growth with her own team. She runs a predominately female-based office with over 66% of employees being female. Many have been attracted because Angela has been a strong advocate for flexible work arrangements including part-time and remote working. She is a champion and a role model, openly saying her family and their health come first and encouraging others that it’s fine to have work and life in balance. She has altered the company’s culture significantly, allowing younger female professionals to excel in their career whilst balancing other commitments outside of work.
Her team is very supportive of one another, empowered and they regularly check in to see “how everything is going” showing genuine interest and support. A sure sign of a problem is when someone’s door remains closed for too long. This usually indicates the person is drowning. If that happens, anyone of the team will step in to ensure the workload becomes rebalanced.
Ensuring that SLF is a safe environment for female employees to grow and develop skills is very important to Angela. There is still a lot of inappropriate behaviour in the legal sector from both clients and suppliers. Angela works to support her team should this occur. Sometimes they cannot avoid the communication, but they have a system to ensure it’s all in writing and channelled straight to her. Often, this alone works to the diffuse the situation.
Angela actively mentors’ young females both within the office space and outside. Within SLF Lawyers, both in the Sydney office and nationally, Angela is an active participant in mentoring young lawyers and guiding their professional development. In this respect, Angela promotes and encourages career growth within the organisation and is supportive in all employees’ professional endeavours. She loves creating opportunities for them to step up.
Externally, Angela is a frequent mentor through Business in Heels Mentor Mornings, connecting likeminded professional women of all demographics. Through these events, Angela empowers other professional women, within and without the legal sector, to collaborate with each other, be confident in their professional abilities and courageous in their career pursuits. “I have assisted and mentored approximately 50 female individuals, assisting them in forming other professional connections and ensuring they have a safe platform to learn from like-minded females,” says Angela.
Another of Angela’s activities is her board position at Humanity Matters, a charity aimed at supporting at-risk and vulnerable youth. The charity focuses on engaging with them to facilitate positive interactions with their community, families and other vulnerable youth. This is turn promotes their development so they can acclimate and succeed in society and all other aspects of their lives.
When asked why she is a great advocate and mentor Angela comments, “In order to promote equity in society, it is important to equip people with the means to succeed and the confidence to pursue their goals.”