A strong belief in flexible working has not held Linda Urquhart back in breaking several glass ceilings.
|Year of Graduation||1980|
Your time at the University
I spent four years at Edinburgh University. The choice of place of study was purely financial. I could live at home while I studied and I did so for the three years of my degree, moving in to a flat only during the year of my diploma. I was lucky as Edinburgh had, and still has, such a good reputation for studying law.
As a result, looking back, I don't think I took advantage of my time at University as much as I might have, had I studied away from home. The financial issues facing current students are probably even more acute but I would encourage students to try to find a way to expand their horizons by studying at a University which is not in their home city.
Another decision driven by the financial imperative was that I studied for an Ordinary degree, which was completed over three years. That was not unusual at the time, with around a third of my year taking that route. My year was the first year to do the Diploma in Legal Practice and it was introduced on a phased basis so only the Ordinary graduates from 1980 were involved in the first year. I enjoyed the practical aspects of the Diploma but remain a sceptic as to whether teaching practical subjects in an academic environment is the best approach.
I embarked on a law degree initially with a view to converting to accountancy, having been good at Maths at school. Once I had started the degree however, I found the subject matter interesting and decided to stick to law. I can't pretend I found every subject interesting and it's useful to note that, whilst I found conveyancing a real chore at University, it ended up as my area of specialisation, so I do always advise students to keep their options open until they see subject matter in practice. It's often very different to the academic theory.
I had some extra curricular activities linked to home which I continued whilst at University including my involvement in Girlguiding. I had a brief membership (which I think was a founder membership) of the Edinburgh University Skateboard Club (although this meant that I turned up to the first few meetings, paid my subs, then quickly realised it was not for me). I had a rather longer relationship with the University Motor Sport Club (I had a boyfriend who had a car and was keen), enjoying modest success as a rally navigator and going on to teach navigation to the Club after graduation.
Participating in the Club's auto tests has given me a lasting ability to park any vehicle in a very small parking space at some speed, definitely to be counted as one of the more useful skills I picked up during my time at University.
There was much less emphasis on getting experience of working within the law at that time and so I spent my summers doing a variety of different jobs, which I do think was equally useful. I worked in New Register House, then the home of the Births, Deaths and Marriages records, doing genealogical research, spent a summer as a waitress at the restaurant at Edinburgh Airport (where I'm delighted to have returned as a non-executive Director) and a summer in the 'record' department (how that dates me!) of Boots on Princes Street.
All of these jobs involved dealing with the public, working as part of a team and understanding the commercial aspects of the organisations where I was working, great experience for practice as a solicitor. This did however mean that I arrived on the first day of my traineeship with little or no understanding of the day to day role of a solicitor. I was fortunate that it appealed to me and seemed to match my talents. I have hugely enjoyed my career in the law and beyond, but perhaps a balance of time working in and out of the law would have prepared me better.
Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University
I am now a non-executive Chairman and Director, holding posts in a range of different organisations, including Edinburgh Airport, Scottish Enterprise, Adam Bank and Investors in People Scotland. I am also a Trustee of Marie Curie Cancer Care and the RSA Foundation and continue to have a link with Girlguiding as an Ambassador.
I describe myself as a 'lapsed lawyer'. Although I Chair Morton Fraser, I no longer have a practising certificate and having been Chief Executive there for the eleven years preceding my Chairmanship, it's some time since I practised to any real extent.
I think law is an excellent discipline to act as the grounding for a range of careers.
As I have already said, my degree at Edinburgh convinced me that I wanted to pursue a career in the law. I trained with Steedman Ramage then moved to Morton Fraser and specialised in commercial property. It seems astonishing to look back on from the current environment, but I was made a partner when I was two years post qualifying at the tender age of 26. I found, early on, that I had an interest in the business of law, as well as delivering advice and, over the years, held various management roles alongside my practice, before becoming Chief Executive.
In my time as CEO, I developed the firm's links externally and it was these links which led me to a portfolio career of non-executive roles. My education at Edinburgh, my training as a lawyer and my time in law firm management were good grounding in the skills needed around the board table.
I was Chair of CBI Scotland from 2009 to 2011 (and I am now a member of the Board of the CBI) and received an OBE for services to business in Scotland in the New Year Honours list 2012.
When I was studying at Edinburgh, the balance of male to female students had just tipped in favour of women and my career saw a number of 'firsts', including first female partner in Morton Fraser, first female managing partner of a major law firm in Scotland and first female Chairman of CBI Scotland.
I'm passionate about organisations making the most of their talent and continue to be involved in a number of initiatives to ensure that the women are encouraged to achieve their potential. I am also keen to promote flexible working which works for both the individual and the law firm. I have not worked full-time since the birth of my first child.
Looking back from my current position, I see the value of my legal training for what I do now. I think law is an excellent discipline to act as the grounding for a range of careers. Many of my contemporaries at Edinburgh now do things other than law, but their legal training has stood them in good stead, both to diversify in their careers and to excel at them.
My advice to current undergraduates is to keep your options open. Many of my colleagues (and I) practised in areas of the law they didn't find of particular interest at University and so studying as broad a spectrum of subjects as you can and, if possible, securing a traineeship which offers a broad training is helpful.