Inspiring Change is the 2014 theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) on Saturday 8th March. At Halebury we believe it is an important day to reflect on and celebrate the changes in lives of women around the world and to ensure the debate is kept alive to empower the lives of women in the future.

As part of our plans to commemorate the day we spoke to a number of women inspiring change in the legal profession and asked them about the importance of the day and their experiences as women in the profession. Their insights will feature in our blog over the next three days. Today we hear from Kerry Phillip, Group Legal Director for Corporate and Commercial at Vodafone, and Halebury’s own CEO and co-founder, Denise Nurse.

Kerry Phillip, Group Legal Director, Corporate and Commercial, Vodafone Services Limited

It is International Women’s Day on 8th March – do you think it is important for the legal profession to celebrate IWD?

It is important for women in every walk of life and in every profession to celebrate. Women make up half of the world and should have equal rights. An area as important as the legal profession needs to pause to ask if it is doing all it should and could.

The theme for this year’s IWD is inspiring change, how do you go about inspiring change through your work as Group Legal Director, Corporate and Commercial?

I am an advocate of flexible working, and with the technology that mobile operators such as Vodafone offer, it has never been easier to work efficiently and effectively from wherever you are. I have worked flexibly for 13 years and actively promote and encourage flexible working patterns within my team. In my last role at Vodafone, 25% of my team worked flexibly and the legal team has a well-deserved reputation in the business for high engagement and high performance.

I was thrilled to be included in the Timewise 2013 Power Part Time Top 50 and through this I have met many senior business men and women who are proof that you can work at the most senior level and work in a flexible way.

What have been the most significant developments/changes for women pursuing a legal career since you started out?

I started out as a young, female corporate assistant in a magic circle law firm and although there are more females in this area now, the numbers are still low. I worked on a four-way joint venture where for almost a year we negotiated the shareholders’ agreement in long meetings with many lawyers around a table. During all that time, there was never more than one other female in the room. Unfortunately, this is still not unusual.

I get the impression that law firms are trying hard to retain the women they recruited into the profession, but the drop-out rate and the low levels of female partners shows that there is still much more to be done. In my Vodafone UK team where 50% of the team is female we have not had any difficulty in retaining talented women.

Which female in the legal profession do you most admire and why?

There are many women in law firms and in companies who have managed to reach the top of the ladder and are extending a hand to those below them. They do this actively and they also do this by providing a role model and showing that it is possible.

Outside the legal profession, I am full of admiration for Malala Yousafzai, who at the age of only 16 has set up the Malala Fund to support efforts to ensure girls in all countries and cultures have access to education (there are approximately 66 million girls who do not across the globe). Malala was shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for her views that girls had a right to education. She is now an ambassador for girls worldwide. The Vodafone Foundation has formed a partnership with the Malala Fund to explore ways of using mobile technology to tackle female illiteracy and expand female access to education.

Denise Nurse, CEO and co-founder, Halebury

It is International Women’s Day on 8th March – do you think it is important for the legal profession to celebrate IWD?

I absolutely do. As part of one of the most respected professions around the world, lawyers play a big role in society and hold a position of privilege and influence. People look up to us and so it is essential that we set the right example and speak out on issues of importance. I’m speaking at a client event this year in celebration of International Women’s Day and I am heartened by the number of in-house legal teams, in particular, commemorating the day.

The theme for this year’s IWD is inspiring change, how do you go about inspiring change through your work as CEO at Halebury?

I lead by example. At Halebury we abide by the motto: fortune favours the brave and apply that to everything we do. The creation of Halebury was built around building something different. As a result we think that we have been at the forefront of inspiring change in the profession – not just for women but for men too – by showing that there is a different way to practise the law. We have always believed in creating the right conditions for lawyers to be the best lawyers they can be.

We’re also committed to the diversity agenda and do not shy away from discussing these issues with our clients. We’re proud of the fact that 70% of our lawyers are female.

What have been the most significant developments/changes for women pursuing a legal career since you started out?

Based on my own personal experience, I think one of the most significant changes has been the rise of in-house teams and the leadership role women now play in them. When I first started out it was the norm to head straight to private practice, with in-house being viewed as a far riskier and less attractive route. Yet, the commercial focus on outcomes and the flexibility that comes with that has allowed in-house teams to push boundaries. As a result many women have taken up senior roles in-house and the role has gained significant credibility along the way. That said, the head of legal and my first boss in-house in 2001 was Deanna Bates at BSkyb and she was a phenomenal leader.

Which female in the legal profession do you most admire and why?

I have to pick two: firstly, my co-founder and executive chairman at Halebury, Janvi Patel. Her ability to perform her role to such a high-standard from Los Angeles, while juggling a family of three small children, navigating regular transatlantic travel and still loving her job inspires me every day.

My mother hails from Dominica, the same tiny Caribbean island as Baroness Scotland. I grew up in the same corner of London as she did and I’ve been proud to watch someone from the same ethnic origin rise to become Attorney General. I think Baroness Scotland sends a clear message that “anything is possible”.