I haven’t the faintest idea why I became a lawyer. I’d signed up to be a management consultant after university and hated it. My brother said: ‘Why don’t you become a lawyer?’ I thought: ‘Oh, alright.’ Got as far as A in the directory and got work experience at Ashurst.
Describe myself in three words? Passionate, impatient and aspirational.
I come from a small fishing town in northern Greece most lawyers would not know. A very traditional family, my father was a local civil servant, my mother a homemaker. We weren’t poor, nor rich. Modest in Greece in the 1970s meant no car, no television. But there was a drive to do better. My pushy mum, when I was ten, would give any Indian or Chinese mum today a run for their money!
My career couldn’t be better. Nice work, nice clients, good money… The culture of this firm lends itself to being an enjoyable place to work. We don’t have the bureaucracy or warfare other firms have.
I started at Clifford Turner. Matthew Layton was still in shorts. The head of commercial litigation in the early 1980s was a South African called Leon Boshoff – very tall, powerfully built… Behind that fearsome appearance he had a razor-sharp mind. One of the cases involved Lloyd’s of London. He took them on four square. He taught us to be fearless and not judge a situation by: ‘Well, this is a reputable institution, they can’t have done anything wrong.’ Drill down. Find the evidence. Form your own judgement.
Every time my father got a promotion we had to move. It trains you to fit in with new crowds. He worked for the Midland Bank. We lived in Carlisle, Shropshire, Birmingham, Kingston-upon-Thames and Manchester. It focused me on academic work as each new school had a different syllabus so I was always catching up.
I used to stand in our garage handing my father spanners. My favourite car in my youth was the Lancia Aurelia B20 GT, which was one of the classic Pininfarina designs of the ’50s. They were the embodiment of high-quality engineering. I went through a severe Lancia-buying phase in my 20s. I bought five!
I had no intention of doing law. My father was a detective in the Scottish flying squad. I wanted to join the police.
I got a traineeship at Dundas & Wilson where I was the only female trainee. I was also one of the very few that hadn’t been to public school. People were nice but it did feel very odd.
My parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. My father came after being conscripted against his will in the Tsarist army and took a tortuous route via Germany and Paris. My mother came from Russian-occupied Poland. We lived in Stepney and my father waited for people to die and sold their clothes in Petticoat Lane market.
Before pop stars all we had were film stars. But there were glamorous lawyers like Hartley Shawcross, whose face was always in the newspapers as he was a prosecutor in the Nuremberg war trials. I’d never met a lawyer. It was a fantasy.
My summer holidays were spent licking envelopes at my parents printing factory in Hemel Hempstead. My parents were an odd mix, my mum an Italian immigrant and my father as English as they come. They were very keen that I have a profession as they wanted something better for their kids. The business is still in the family.
I learnt classical guitar as a kid. Every time I got to the next grade, a bit like a dog getting a treat, I got a guitar. I had a room full of guitars in my late teens. My Fender Stratocaster is one of my most prized possessions. They end up getting used more by my daughter now.
I was crazy about basketball as a kid and toured with the England youth teams. Nowadays I wouldn’t get anywhere near a team – I’d need to be twice as big.
The legal market has become more competitive. One way of measuring yourself is profit share. For some partners, the size of this share is very important. When I started getting offers, I realised money wasn’t something that motivated me. Other factors were much stronger.
I started out with a managing clerk – he was a bad influence in terms of litigation because he was at a stage where he couldn’t be bothered with the detail, but he was fantastic. He was the firm’s troubleshooter. Whenever the client had a problem – if there was fraud in the factory or somebody was stealing – he was the guy that got called in. He was like something out of a 1970s police programme. He was my first influence.
My career has been one of misfortune for others and fortune for me. I had two senior partners that died – one was very young, Alan Rosin at Bayer Rosin – he was in his 40s, I was about 30. As a result of his death, which was a huge tragedy, I inherited a practice.
Bayer Rosin was a unique firm. The partners were either South African or East African. South Africa was just coming through apartheid and so on his death the opportunities presented themselves. Many firms wanted to merge with us as we had a strong practice in the region. One was Mishcon… I brought about half the firm with me, others went their own way. The second person was the then-senior partner Martin Bayer. He came to Mishcon but died a few years after we joined.
I started life in South Africa mainly doing crime and divorce. Knowing something about criminal law, and the cut and thrust of the courtroom, is a good base for anybody who wants to do litigation.
I wanted to go to the Bar but my father was a bank manager in South Africa with a lot of barrister customers who weren’t doing very well so he basically said: ‘You’ll never make it so become a solicitor.’ Both my parents were English, my father was at Dunkirk and was badly wounded and captured so he emigrated to South Africa for health reasons. He was always a pretty strong character and was the sort of man who you couldn’t ignore!