“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Walking through the cloisters at the University of Glasgow still gives me a sense of belonging. Having been born in Bulgaria, been brought up in Switzerland, Cyprus and Scotland, lived in Belgium, and with a strong sense of geographical curiosity, a sense of belonging is not a feeling I often get.
I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2013, and completed the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice in 2014. In view of my background, it is of little surprise that the areas of law I was most interested in were those that transcend national borders. I obtained a Master's degree from the College of Europe in 2015 and worked in the competition law departments at two international law firms in Brussels before returning to Scotland to qualify as a solicitor. Following a secondment to the Department for International Development (UK Government), I specialised in competition law.
The University of Glasgow is of very special significance to me. I shared the experience with my now fiancé, I met some of my closest friends and I had fantastic professors who sparked my curiosity and invigorated my analytical thinking. Two professors in particular had a real impact on me as a student and on choosing my career path. Two inspirational women. Maria Fletcher taught EU law, a class that I could easily relate to, having experienced the change from non-EU membership to EU membership first hand. Rosa Greaves, who was head of the law school at the time, taught EU competition law, a subject which I still describe as the equivalent of international sport in law, as it seeks to safeguard fair competition and maintain a level playing field for companies on the EU marketplace. In fact, it was Rosa who introduced me to the College of Europe, a post-graduate institute of European studies that assembles students from around the world to live and study together for one year.
Sport has always been a big part of my life. I played badminton at an international level for more than 10 years from the age of 13, representing Bulgaria and then Scotland at tournaments and events around the world. Badminton taught me discipline, time management and gave me a taste for winning. While retired from badminton, I remain strongly interested in the sport sector, now from a legal perspective.
I am very fortunate be surrounded by strong women and supportive men, all of whom have shaped the person I am today. My mother is an Olympian and international badminton coach. She showed me that you should not be afraid to seize an opportunity for fear of the unknown (moving from behind the iron curtain to a direct democracy – how different can it really be; going to work in countries where she does not speak the language – how hard can it be to learn). My father is a badminton coach, a businessman and perhaps the greatest advocate for empowerment of women through sport that I know. He developed some of the greatest female badminton players Bulgaria has ever seen, and has always pushed me to face my fears. My fiancé, and high school sweetheart, has always been supportive and challenged me to think outside of the box, constantly challenging societal norms.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”
The legal profession has come a long way since the first woman admitted to practice law in the UK, Madge Easton Anderson, entered the profession 100 years ago, both in terms of social norms and technology. But is the legal world making the most of these advancements?
We live in an increasingly interconnected and self-aware world that requires flexibility, whether it is to accommodate time differences with clients, to allow parents to put children to bed before logging on remotely, or just to encourage work-life balance. Flexibility is not a new concept in the legal profession – quite the contrary: lawyers have always been expected to be flexible and work long and unpredictable hours. In fact, this is part of the excitement of the job. However, the profession has not, traditionally, been expected to be flexible towards its lawyers. And that is what I see reflected in (1) the gender disbalance at the top of the profession, and (2) the mental health issues within the profession. Yet technological advances have been made which encourage such flexibility.
Technological advances allow us to work as effectively in the office as they do elsewhere, at different times or even in different time zones; whereas the development of legal tech is streamlining the profession, allowing lawyers to concentrate on non-mechanical tasks, and improving efficiency. These developments benefit lawyers, law firms and clients alike by, amongst other things, allowing tasks to be completed quicker (though not yet always cheaper, in view of the expense of legal tech such as e-discovery). This does, however, raise the question whether, in a world which encourages flexibility and facilitates efficiency, the legal profession’s traditional assessment of good performance – rewarding higher numbers of billable hours and praising long hours of physical office presence – is simply falling behind the times.
It’s time to fully embrace technological advancements and use them to our advantage. Let’s encourage productivity, efficiency and innovation. My advice to the next generation of lawyers is as follows: be inspired, be vocal, know your worth, and don't be afraid to try something new or challenge the status quo.