Interview with Polly Rodway
Partner, BDBF LLP
1. Where are you now? Tell us about your role
I left RPC in June 2013 after training at the firm and working as an associate in the Employment team for about three years. At the time, RPC’s employment work was pretty much all respondent side, acting for businesses.
I joined BDBF (Brahams Dutt Badrick French LLP) which is a specialist employment firm which primarily advises senior individuals. So, I’m now on the other side!
At the point at which I joined BDBF, it had existed for about 6 months, so it was a new start-up. There were four partners, a lawyer, a practice manager, and a couple of paralegals. I was the first lateral lawyer to join the team. It was scary. I recall before I joined being in the RPC café talking to Clare Jaycock and explaining to her where I was going and her saying "Wow, that is brave!". I didn’t think so at the time. But with hindsight, I think it probably was.
I left my desk on the fifth floor of TBH overlooking the tower and a team that I loved and joined BDBF who at the time were in one small office space, with very little natural light, working crazily hard on a huge piece of litigation. I remember thinking what I have done?! I was close to picking up the phone and asking RPC to take me back!
Luckily for me, it has been a success story. I'm now one of five partners at BDBF and we have 11 Associates, a knowledge lawyer and a practice team of 5. We’re no longer in that small dark office…but have a lovely office near the Ned, in Bank. We are at the top of our game, ranked tier one for Senior Executive work in both Chambers and Legal 500. We have been involved in some of the biggest employment disputes over the last few years, and regularly act for individuals in high value discrimination, whistleblowing, harassment, breach of contract and stress at work claims. We also negotiate exits and contracts for new joiners and represent clients in post termination restriction disputes.
As well as advising clients, a key part of my role is business development, keeping a steady flow of new clients, and helping to run the business. As a small partnership, we don't have a team to do the HR, Marketing and Finance for example, it all falls to the partners so that’s a big responsibility too…
2. What does a typical day look like for you?
It's very full and starts early as I have three children, the youngest of whom is 20 months (the older two are 6 and 3).
I have a hybrid, flexible working arrangement so I can balance family and work. I travel into London two days a week and the rest of the week I work from home in south-west London.
No day is the same and is filled up doing client work, business development or work relating to the business.
Client work could be talking to a potential new client who has been made redundant or has a grievance about what claims they have and how best to tactically position themselves. It might be negotiating an exit for a senior individual. Or I might be working knee deep in litigation, working with our team and leading Counsel on a discrimination or whistleblowing claim.
On the business development side, I focus on keeping up with new and existing relationships. When you're working with individuals it is all about personal recommendations, so I dedicate a lot of time to making sure I’m in touch with my network.
I also work a lot on the business side of things and making the business operate effectively. We make loads of decisions every week regarding HR, Marketing, the team etc. We are currently busy planning the firm’s 10 year birthday party, which is fun.
The variety of work keeps me on my toes.
3. What do you enjoy most about your work and what has been your most rewarding achievement?
I'm curious by nature and love building relationships so I'm in the right job where I get to work closely with people, asking questions that you might not otherwise get away with!
In my line of work, you really must get under the skin of a matter, roll your sleeves up and do whatever you can to get the best result for your client. That result could be life changing, both financially or in terms of their confidence/esteem after being treated badly by an employer. It’s really gratifying to be able to help people in difficult times and feel like you are making a difference.
The most rewarding part of my career was joining the partnership in 2017 (just after coming back from my first maternity leave) and getting individually ranked as a leading individual doing senior executive work in the Chambers (when I was on maternity leave with my second child). I feel proud to have achieved these accolades whilst growing my family.
4. Throughout your career – what are your highlights?
There was a moment four or so years ago again when everything clicked in terms of where I wanted my career to go. At that time, I had recently become a mother and was spending a lot of my time advising women on maternity leave or maternity returners who had been discriminated against. Everything came to life for me and that gave me real purpose and direction on where I wanted to focus my energy going forward. Being able to do so, and put that into practice helping clients at a particularly vulnerable time has been incredibly rewarding.
5. Where do you see your industry heading – what are the key issues or changes you see on the horizon over the next three to five years?
I think we are seeing an increase of people willing to stand up for their rights. This is probably in part as a result of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on groups of people, including women and ethnic minority groups. I see many women who are now feeling empowered to stand up and say that there is an issue. We are really proud to represent clients in that situation.
The market is changing a lot, with businesses like Keystone absorbing a lot of the non-litigious individual employment work. The benefit of BDBF is that we have a fabulous team, so that we can work on larger matters and litigation rather than single handed dealing with a negotiation.
6. What are you passionate about outside of work?
All my energy goes into my family and friends. I always promised myself when I left RPC that I would find myself something to replace the RPC choir and do some singing because I love it. I've not managed to do that yet but I am partial to a bit of karaoke…
7. What were the most valuable lessons you learnt while at RPC that has helped you in your current role?
That relationships are paramount. You learn that on day one on a training contract at RPC because you're immediately introduced across the firm, you meet loads of people and every day and encouraged to network internally.
When I look back at my time at RPC, it is really those relationships and the people that I remember. Over the years, and still now, people at RPC (both existing and alumni) have been friends, supporters, referrers, clients, and listening ears. I’m really grateful for that.
8. What is your favourite RPC memory?
I used to love being in the choir and part of the Christmas concert and singing in the TBH atrium. Seeing people huddled on the bridges in the office listening to us sing gave me goose bumps then and still does now!
9. What does the future hold for you – if we spoke again in a year, what would you like to have achieved?
This year is a big year for BDBF as it is our tenth birthday in November (and therefore 9 and 1/2 years from when I left RPC!). I am really focused on that now including the big party we are having to say thank you to those people who have supported us to get where we are (including RPC’ers). From then onwards it will be a case of continuing to grow the business and support our brilliant team of lawyers going forward into the next ten years…!