LIFE AFTER THE LAW: BCL Legal talks to Kate Catherall

BCL Legal talks to Kate Catherall, City trained and former employment law partner at a North West firm, about leaving the law after 12 years and establishing her own company called LottieBee.

So, what prompted you to set up your own business?
I left my job following the birth of my second daughter. After my first baby, I went back to work part-time, three days a week which in theory was the perfect solution. The compromise worked, to a degree, with one child, but it did feel like a lot of compromising. I felt guilty at work having to leave in time for the six o’clock nursery pick-up and being unable to attend evening functions in the same way as I used to. Then I felt guilty being the first one to drop off at nursery in the morning and the last one to pick up in the evening. With a second child, I tried it but lasted less than a month!

I suddenly found myself a stay at home mum, which was great, but also exhausting. I soon realised I couldn’t do it seven days a week, not, contrary to popular opinion, because it’s boring, but simply because it is too difficult! Being a full time mum requires levels of patience and humour that I simply don’t possess!

So my solution was to try working for myself, doing what I love – which is sewing. I set up ‘LottieBee’ named after my two gorgeous girls. I designed a range of co-ordinating products, kiddie kit bags, mummy bags, pinnies, babywipe holders and the like that could be personalised – basically the sort of stuff that me and my friends would buy. I had read about the success of Cath Kidston and that retro, feel-good products seemed to be recession proof!

I now have a full e-commerce website and I sell my products at fairs, toddler groups and shopping parties. I have also just started supplying two shops and a cafe. My biggest problem at the moment is keeping up with demand!

Have you found your legal skills transferable to your new venture?
At first sight, making and selling kiddie products has absolutely nothing in common with advising on the intricacies of TUPE! However, there are some elements I learned in the law which I have used. Clients could be demanding and I try to treat my customers now with just as much respect and I deal with queries promptly, turn work around quickly etc. Quality is just as important to me now as it always was, but now it’s in terms of maticulate stitching, not drafting. One issue I struggle with, just as I did during my days as a solicitor, is the need to continue marketing even when you’re at your busiest with your current workload. You can guarantee that things will calm down eventually and if you haven’t kept up your marketing, the slow times will be even slower!

What has been your greatest challenge with LottieBee?
Probably my website. I’m a bit of a techno-phobe but I didn’t want to engage a costly web designer, so I struggled on with a template type website with a fantastic company called Create. I now have a complete e-commerce site which was well worth the effort as it also does a lot of the admin functions I used to do such as sending confirmatory emails following the dispatch of orders.

What is the best thing about going it alone?
No more time recording! I certainly don’t miss doing everything in six minute units! I enjoy the flexibility of running my own business. If my kids are a bit off colour I can keep them at home – when I was working they’d have to be at death’s door before I’d take a day off! I love it that I can take my daughters with me when I do stalls at toddler groups. It’s a good way to raise awareness about my business and make a few sales, and they get a good play too.

Whilst I do miss a lot of my colleagues, I also love the peace of sewing days, with just the radio and Spotify for company! Perhaps one of the nicest things about the experience so far is discovering how supportive other women and especially mums are. There are so many mumpreneurs out there who are all happy to share advice and experiences and help each other along. To build on this I have set up a Facebook group called Cheshire Mums in Business to encourage this sharing of ideas and opportunities.

Can women in the law have it all?
Well, that’s the six million dollar question isn’t it?! Sadly I think not, at least not at the moment. You can have all the employment law protection in the world, but I think that until the culture of the legal profession changes, balancing work and family life satisfactorily is near impossible. The trouble is these days everyone is expected to work such long hours, and then network in the evenings and you simply can’t be in two places at once! Until all firms change their way of working, a real work life balance is impossible, because the competition will always be there to pick up work from the lawyers who have gone home to put their kids to bed!

Clients can be demanding and expect their advisers to be at their beck and call, and until that expectation changes, solicitors have to respond. That’s hard on everyone, but particularly women who are still, on the whole, the primary carers.

So do you miss the law?
In a word, no!