We recently launched the PA of the Year Awards 2020 - our ninth annual celebration of the dedication, hard work and dazzling talent of PAs, EAs and Office Managers in the UK.
Joanne Wilson, the winner of last year’s Legal PA of the Year award and PA to the Partners of Hall Brown Family Law firm, took the time to speak with us about her illustrious career so far and the glamorous, prestigious awards ceremony itself.
How did you become a Legal PA?
“I became a Legal PA quite by accident - a very happy one. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school and back in the 1980s there was a Government funded/subsidised scheme very similar to an apprenticeship called a “Youth Training Scheme” which placed school leavers in jobs on a very low subsidised wage. My mum was actually one of the YTS tutors, so after two weeks’ training on basic office skills with her, I was fortunate enough to be placed with a firm of high street solicitors not too far from home. I stayed training on the scheme with this firm for just under a year before I left at the age of 17 to join a large Manchester City Centre firm as PA to a Partner – this is the firm where I stayed for 28 years before leaving to embark on my present role at Hall Brown Family Law.”
What’s great about your job at Hall Brown Family Law?
“To be honest, I love every single aspect of my job at Hall Brown Family Law: the people, the culture, the endless chocolates. It has been the biggest learning curve of my life and I have surprised myself with just how much I have achieved in the last three and a half years. This is due to (a) being given the opportunity in the first place; (b) having enthusiasm and passion for the role; and (c) the trust, belief and ambiguity I have so fortunately been given by both James Brown and Sam Hall. This means the world!”
What do you love about being a Legal PA?
“The variety, quality and teamwork. I previously worked in various areas of law such as commercial property, employment and corporate before deciding to settle in family law. Due to the fast paced and litigious nature of family law - not to mention the variety in terms of divorce, finances, children law, injunctions, abduction, adoption etc. - an uneventful day in the office can turn very quickly into an emergency application to court which involves everyone in the office.”
“I love working in this emotive practice area of law, assisting the fee earners as they offer our private clients a Rolls-Royce service, the best outcome they could hope for and the chance to move on in their personal lives as easily as possible.”
You helped to set up the firm you currently work at. How did that come about, and how does it feel to work in a firm you’ve been a part of from the beginning?
“I feel extremely privileged and proud to have been the first employee of Hall Brown. I was largely responsible for the physical setup of the office, not to mention the working practices, policies and the day to day running and everything that this entails.”
“I had worked and got on very well with James Brown for five years in a previous role. He left in 2011 to go to another firm and then in 2016 I heard through the grapevine that he was setting up his own practice with another person. I contacted James, met him and Sam for a pizza lunch and the job was mine. It really was as simple as that. At that time I was told that there would be about five people in total – not nearly 40!”
Do you have any great stories from your time as a Legal PA so far?
“On my very first day at the firm I worked in for 28 years, I (a) fell down the stairs and split my pencil skirt up to my knickers; (b) then sent all my letters out without being checked and signed beforehand; and (c) set fire to my litter bin - those were the days when smoking was allowed in the office environment!”
“Another time, we represented a well-known musician who was ordered to provide a hair sample for drug and alcohol testing purposes. He arrived at the office with his head shaven. Needless to say, we had to take the sample from another part of his body – I threw the scissors away!”
How did you find the interview process for the PA of the Year Awards?
“I could not have felt more at ease during the interview process. I was extremely nervous at the start but within a couple of minutes felt like I was sat with my friends just having a cup of tea and a chat. It went so fast and I could not have wished for a more relaxed, friendly, engaging and encouraging interview. It was an utter delight.”
Tell us about the night itself?
“The venue was stunning. I have never been to The Ivy before and it surpassed all my expectations from the beautiful décor, champagne reception and goodie bag on the table to the food, drink and engaging company. I had a wonderful evening from start to finish and felt like a superstar.”
“I don’t think I actually appreciated the gravity and high standard of nominees until the ceremony. I couldn’t believe that I had been shortlisted among them. I was completely and utterly shocked when I won – I was made to feel so important, with everyone congratulating me, the photographer taking copious photos, the wonderful prizes and award and the assurance and examples I was given as to why I won. It was the classiest event I have ever attended and a night I will never forget.”
How did your colleagues react to your win, and have you seen any lasting effects from what is a tough award to win?
“I walked back in the office on the Friday to a standing ovation and round of applause by my colleagues. I will certainly be reminding both James and Sam of this when it comes to appraisal time.”
What piece of advice would you give others for achieving success as a Legal PA or EA?
“Learn as much as you can. If there is training on it, do it. You never know what this may lead to in the future, no matter how trivial you think it may be in the present. Remember: it’s the small things that make the biggest difference.”
Do you know a someone deserving of the Legal PA of the Year award 2020? Submit a nomination today to let us know all about them!