We spoke to Emma Kennedy (of radio, film and TV fame) about her stint as a trainee at Macfarlanes, her 18m of litigation at Stephens Innocent (now Finers Stephens Innocent) and her successful career post-law (including several books and six more in the pipeline over the next three years). Despite being very involved in writing and performing at university, she went on to train as a solicitor and only picked them up again up seven years later. We asked her about her career and whether she had any advice to offer Moretolaw readers.
mtl: Hi Emma, why did you become a lawyer?
Emma: After studying English at university, I went to live in San Francisco where I wrote adverts. On my return to the UK I worked for Chambers and Partners on their directory of the legal profession, which made being a lawyer sound pretty good. I also thought I should get a proper job as my friends were all becoming doctors and the like, but to be honest the driving impulse was that I wanted to be a student again!
Blissfully unaware therefore of who I really was, I sorted out a training contract with Macfarlanes and went to law school when my job at Chambers and Partners finished. My first lecture was in trusts and I had a sinking feeling half way through it that I had made a terrible mistake - but by then I had to go through with the course and I enjoyed the second year a bit more.
Looking back on my training contract though, I might as well have gone to prison! Actually, that’s a bit harsh as I had some good times and made some great friends. I latched on to the in-house magazine and became the editor – it was pretty obvious that all I wanted to do was organise that and arrange jollies for my colleagues.
It is safe to say that I didn’t fit in to life at Macfarlanes… I actually left the firm before my articles finished as I refused to go to the tax department for my final seat – I just couldn’t cope with even the thought of it! I finished my training at Stephens Innocent (now Finers Stephens Innocent) after applying for an NQ role there while still a trainee at Macfarlanes. It was something of a maverick firm and I think they took delight in the fact that I was leaving a City firm to join them in such circumstances.
I definitely fitted in better to Stephens Innocent and qualified into litigation there. I figured that if I was ever going to like law, it would be there (and on the flip-side if I wasn’t happy there then I couldn’t be happy in law), because I worked with great, slightly eccentric people and I had an interesting case load - mostly copyright and civil rights work.
mtl: Why and when did you leave?
Emma: I used to have clients come in to see me (with plastic bags full of documents) wanting to sue and my reaction would be to want to tell them to let it go! I didn’t want to fight with people and I realised that to be a successful lawyer you have to want to crush others to some extent! For example, in matrimonial cases it seemed obvious to me that in an emotional situation the worst thing you could do would be to keep fighting, yet lawyers on the other side never wanted to help sort things out simply.
I remember sitting on the tube one day wondering whether I could face the job for another 35 years and the answer was a resounding no. Once I had received a letter from my bank saying that I’d paid off my law school debt, I resigned immediately. I certainly didn’t labour over the decision to leave as at the time I saw money as the only pro of the job. I was 18m PQE at that point.
I left with no plans for what to do next and actually signed on the dole for a few months. Although I didn’t have much money I got by and the feeling of waking up in the morning with nothing to do, after having had a full-on job for a few years, was magical! I was so relieved to be away from law that I never worried about my future.
mtl: Tell us briefly about your acting and writing career?
Emma: Despite having written and performed a lot at university, I had never thought that you could actually make a living out of it, or rather that I would be able to. I didn’t come from a showbiz family and at that time not just anyone could be on TV. However I was always being asked why I hadn’t continued writing and doing comedy after leaving university. When I left law I started writing again and had a slot at the Regency Rooms, where I got my confidence back. Mel and Sue saw me there, asked me to go and work for them and that was that.
Some highlights for me post-law include working on “The Sunday Format” for Radio 4 which won lots of awards and a documentary series called “Who Wears The Trousers” about early radio comedy in the US, which took me a year to research. My most thrilling moment was being in “Notes on a Scandal” and meeting French and Saunders!
I now focus on writing books and getting the book deals is what I’m most proud of. My book “The Tent, the Bucket and Me” has just been released and is based on my family’s disastrous holidays in the 1970’s, when I was age 3-13. It came about because over lunch one day my parents and I started to recall our first holiday when our caravan went over a cliff and we realised that every holiday we had in the ‘70’s had gone wrong. I interviewed my parents for every chapter and was obviously heavily reliant on their input.
I’ve also written a children’s book called “Wilma Tenderfoot and the Case of the Frozen Hearts” which will be available this summer. It’s the first of a series of five, with the heroine based on an island in the English Channel – I’ve just finished writing the second. Each book is a self-contained comedy crime thriller but there is a thread that runs through them in that Wilma is on a quest to become a detective and find out where she came from.
I think I’ve found my calling and that I should have tried children’s books earlier as I love writing them! For the next three years I won’t be doing much acting, or “mucking around” as I like to call it as I am signed up to write two books a year. Having had a proper job earlier in my life, I still can’t believe how actors are pampered, picked up, dressed and fed the whole time – it’s slightly embarrassing and I certainly get more satisfaction from writing!
mtl: Do you have comments, tips or advice for our readers?
Emma: I’m glad that I did law as it really makes me appreciate my life now and it has given me a good work ethic as I worked very hard as a solicitor. Lots of friends of mine who are writers are shocked by the fact that I work all day, but having worked in a law firm I have a sense of structure and treat writing as a proper job.
My advice is that if you are on the underground at 6am with a large case of documents, and you feel miserable, you look around at the other grey faces and see that they are too and you don’t fancy that as your future, then change it. I’m a firm believer that anyone can do whatever they want to do at any age and people always want to do something... The only thing that holds them back is fear. You only get one twirl around the carousel and it very important to be happy in what you do.
Very briefly, if you are thinking about writing then just start doing it. Like learning to be a concert pianist, you won’t be good immediately. Writing a blog is an excellent way to start. It is a good exercise in writing every day, it hones your style and shows you what it is you have to say to the world, which is the hardest part. If you want to get into writing comedy, then start with sketches and listen to Radio 4. Some of their shows will accept unsolicited material. You need to make lots of contacts to widen your network and to treat yourself as a small business – lots of putting yourself out there and hard graft along the way.
mtl: Thank you for your time Emma and good luck with the Wilma series.
For more information about Emma and her career, click here.
To buy Emma’s books from Amazon, click here.
Writing adverts, San Francisco
Compiling a directory of the legal profession for Chambers and Partners
Training contract, Macfarlanes (finishing at Stephens Innocent)
Qualified into litigation, Stephens Innocent
First paid professional job outside of law
Writing, acting, editing
Two books published