Anne Sammon is an Employment & Reward Partner in London. Anne has significant experience in tribunal and high-court litigation in areas including discrimination, unfair dismissal and whistleblowing. Passionate about encouraging young people to embrace who they are while promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Anne joined Pinsent Masons Social Mobility Champions Network and became Aspiring Solicitors Ambassador. We asked her why being an inclusive employer is important and what were the challenges she faced when starting her career in law?
Could you tell us more about yourself?
A – In terms of my background, I went to a state school and then a Further Education college. I studied Law at the University of Kent and was the first person from my immediate family to go to University. I decided fairly early on (probably at about 12 years’ old), after feeling that my parents weren’t being treated very well in their jobs, that I wanted to be an employment lawyer and I’ve pretty much stuck with that ever since! After qualifying, I decided that I missed some of the academic parts of law so did a PhD alongside working, and finished that in 2016. I am now a Partner in the London Employment & Reward team.
What barriers have you faced (if any) when studying law and later, when working as a lawyer?
A – I don’t recall any particular barriers when studying law – probably because my University was fairly inclusive. I think the main challenge that I found as a junior lawyer was that I didn’t have the ready made network that others seemed to have left university with. My parents didn’t have contacts in the City (or know any lawyers) and very few of my peers from the University of Kent ended up in the City, so I had to start from scratch.
Often we hear that candidates are worried that once they join the corporate world they will have to change who they are and how they behave, did that happen to you?
A – I have been told at various points in my career that I should hide certain aspects of my life and background – all by very well meaning people, rather than anyone trying to be nasty or difficult. One firm that I worked for didn’t want me to mention my PhD as they felt it was too political (it was on whether parental rights in employment are adequate) and that was really difficult. At some points, my studies were taking up quite a lot of my time, so if I couldn’t mention them to clients, it meant answering questions about what I had done at the weekend or on any time off became quite difficult and I suspect that some of my clients thought I was super boring as I didn’t seem to be doing anything at all! I think it is really important that people are able to bring their whole selves to work – particularly in the legal sector. Clients choose to work with people not just because they are good at what they do, but because the client likes them – if you can’t show your whole personality, it’s difficult for clients to like you as you can come across as not being authentic or genuine.
Have you ever experienced ‘imposter syndrome’, how did you overcome it?
A – Absolutely. It is something I used to really struggle with – I felt that because I hadn’t gone to as “good” a university as others around me, I wasn’t as bright as everyone else. For me, the turning point was when I started having some coaching and my coach really challenged me to think about things differently.
In your opinion, what do socially mobile candidates bring to the workplace?
A – I can talk to absolutely anyone. I’m not sure whether that is as a result of my background or just my personality, but it is something that a lot of my clients have mentioned – I can speak to their most junior employees and relate, but also to their C-suite. Diversity is so important within the firm – we need people with different backgrounds and experiences to enable us to be able to understand the challenges that our clients face and find solutions for them.
What should law firms be doing to ensure they can access the best talent regardless of their background?
A – For me, there are two main themes: the first is about giving opportunities to people based on talent. I love the fact that, as a firm, we don’t just look at grades and are willing to take account of the circumstances in which those grades were achieved. The second is about ensuring that, once people have been recruited, law firms help them to create networks. Often, those who have come from more privileged backgrounds will have those networks ready made, so it’s about trying to create an even playing field for everyone.
What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers from diverse backgrounds?
First, know your value – understand what your positive aspects your background gives you. If you have worked throughout university, you will be good at time management – draw this out on applications and don’t be ashamed of it. Learning to capitalise and shine a positive light on the challenges you have faced can really set you apart from other candidates.
Second – and most importantly – be yourself. Trying to be something else takes so much energy that would be much better invested elsewhere and most of the time, if you aren’t yourself, you won’t come across as authentic, which makes developing relationships with others so much more challenging.
Would you like to find out more about Anne’s work? Visit her profile on our website: Anne Sammon (pinsentmasons.com)
Aspiring Solicitors members can contact Anne via AS website: Anne S | Pinsent Masons LLP | Aspiring Solicitors – Law Careers Diversity Advice