This week’s career change story is from Hélène Russell who is Managing Director at the Knowledge Business. Hélène is a well-respected knowledge professional in the legal sector and passionate about knowledge sharing as a way to drive improved profitability for law. She set up her business after more than a decade as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence and litigation.
This is one of a series of guest posts designed to inspire mums thinking about a career change. To find all the stories use Career Change Story in the Categories drop-down.
If you have a career change story to share, click here to contact me. I am always delighted to receive guest posts on this subject.
I always wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I was about 14. I initially trained in Personal Injury and then after a couple of years I moved into Defendant Clinical Negligence, where I enjoyed the particular combination of litigation, technical legal work and medical causation issues.
When I was on my first maternity leave, the role of know-how lawyer for the clinical negligence department became free. My supervising partner called me and said “I know you’re very good at IT and there’s a lot of IT involved, so might you be interested?” I absolutely leapt at it because I had secretly coveted that job but it was a part-time role and I couldn’t justify working part-time without a good reason. Once I had had my son, it was an ideal time to take on a new challenge which also enabled me to balance time with my family.
I enjoyed my time working as Know How Lawyer. As a role, it combines creativity, strategic thinking and technical law, whilst offering opportunities for independent thinking and innovation. Unfortunately, when I was on maternity leave with my second child, the 2008 financial crisis hit. At that point, my law firm, in common with many firms across the country, decided they could no longer afford a non fee-earning know-how lawyer.
They invited me back to a fee earning role, but I chose to see the redundancy as an opportunity to take a completely different direction.
After taking the rest of my maternity leave, I started my own part-time knowledge management business offering training and advice for law firms in knowledge management and combined it with a 3-year part-time executive MBA.
My experience in practice had been that there was a real need for practical, strategic, but evidence-based knowledge management help for law firms, so as well as offering training and consultancy, I approached The Law Society with a proposal for a KM textbook. That has been a great success (I’m very proud of my 5* review on Amazon!) and I’m currently finishing off a book of KM projects for law firms. My working title is “A year of living knowledgeably” because there are 12 projects in total, one for each month of the year. This should be published later this year by Legal Monitor.
Starting the business wasn’t easy. Historically I had always worked for big law firms, which meant that I had no experience of the day-to-day practicalities of running a business. I was used to having cashiers to sort out bills and chase money and HR professionals to deal with HR issues and a whole library available to me. Suddenly I was on my own and expected to do everything. It’s not difficult but it’s very new and different when you first start out. Fortunately, at the time I started my business there was a lot of help available from the Labour government for those who had been made redundant, so I made full use of subsidised business courses and SME incubators.
I have no regrets about starting my own business, although I recognise that because my husband has a stable job, the cashflow peaks and troughs have not been such a challenge.
I find that my business fits in nicely with family life. I am able to work from home when I’m not with clients and I can do the school runs and fit appointments in around the school plays and open mornings.
If I had remained within the structured hierarchies of a traditional law firms, I’m sure I wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much. You have to be a forceful character to break free of those hierarchies, whereas when you’re on your own, you create your business in your image and you can bring more of yourself into the work and run things in the way that suits you best.
Since starting my own business, I have achieved a distinction in my exec-MBA, helped firms with their KM strategies, undertaken new research into law firm KM, spoken at conferences, written textbooks, started a knowledge sharing and networking group, and joined and learnt from a new network of SMEs and entrepreneurs. Despite its challenges, it has been a fulfilling time.
Hélène’s website: www.theknowledgebusiness.co.uk.
Hélène’s book Knowledge Management Handbook is published by Law Society Publishing and is also available on Amazon.