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London-based partner Judith Seddon talks about principles and her path into White-Collar law. Her advice: have the courage to step out of your comfort zone and make your presence felt.

A D V I C E   T O   M Y   Y O U N G E R   S E L F

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photo of Judith Seddon

Growing up, I didn’t know any lawyers so did not have a legal career in mind. As a teenager, I became interested in ethical issues as well as human rights and discrimination law. That led to my decision to study law at university.

I put my interest in individuals’ rights into practice at a mid-sized UK firm that represented members of trades unions. I wanted to represent people who were facing the most difficult issues in their lives – where their liberty was often at stake – and qualified into the criminal defense department.

At that time, the East London office of the “Flying Squad” in the Met (the Robbery Squad of London’s Metropolitan Police) was being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Squad. If ever there was a case that provided a good grounding for dealing with difficult issues as a young lawyer, the Flying Squad case was it. I’m glad to have had the chance to handle a case with that level of complexity early in my career and would advise others to take on challenging work right from the start.

Thirteen years later, after returning from my second maternity leave, I felt ready for a new career challenge – time to leave my comfort zone. I decided that if I was to move, I may as well reach high, and within five months I had a job offer from Clifford Chance. It was 2008. The UK Bribery Act was on the horizon and triggered a renewed focus on white-collar crime at city firms with an affected client base, following a similar US trend. It seemed like the perfect time and fit for me.

It was a daunting transition to a new firm; everything was different – its size, its client base, its culture. My advice from that experience is to be aware that certain challenges are temporary; they shouldn’t stop you from forging your own path. I approach life with a positive, can-do attitude, which I think is vital to success.

At a larger firm, it was even more important to be vocal and visible. Looking back, I would counsel making your presence felt and developing your internal network. Don’t avoid challenges; get involved. Pro bono work unwittingly helped me integrate, and winning an award for this work also created internal visibility. It sounds obvious, but you can raise your internal profile simply by doing something visible.

I recently decided never to go to a conference without speaking at it – even if that meant just asking a question from the audience. Prior to that, I would agonize over whether my question was a good one, and opportunities would slip away. I now tell my daughters: “Try to do one brave thing every day” – step out of your comfort zone, if only by a little, at least once every day. Your comfort zone widens, and your self-confidence grows; put differently, don’t be afraid of taking a risk. I try to live up to that in my own life.

Take available opportunities even when you feel hesitant. Sometimes “no” is the right answer. But where it is not, find the courage to say “yes.” There are times when I still feel hesitation, but now I say “yes” and worry about how I’ll do it later.