Q & A with Maria Coster, Partner at Stowe Family Law

1. You joined Stowe back in 2018, why did you decide to join?

Stowe were interested in my career goals at the outset, they were keen to develop my skills so that I could achieve promotion to Partner (which I’ve successfully achieved!).

I was an Associate Solicitor at my former firm but there was no scope for further promotion, and I felt as though I had hit a ceiling. Stowe approached me with an exciting opportunity to be part of opening their Nottingham office. I liked the sound of a national firm with the support of IT, billing and marketing teams etc, while also having the autonomy of smaller offices so our voices are heard when discussing how national strategies were to be implemented locally.

2. You’ve been with Stowe for 3 years now, how’s the journey been for you?

The opening of more offices nationally has been great for client accessibility and with new offices we have new colleagues – there’s a sense of community on our intranet, internal emails and within our specific regions. It’s nice to get to know new colleagues, and have the opportunity to meet in person at our annual conference.

A lot has changed within 3 years, but it’s been positive change. The firm has a clear strategy which is shared with us regularly so we know the direction that the firm is heading in. Management at all levels are open to discussion and regularly seek our views so colleagues have felt supported through that change.

The performance of the Nottingham office was a huge success and during the first lockdown I moved to West Yorkshire, where I now head up the new Sheffield and Huddersfield offices. We’ve an excellent team in Yorkshire and we’re recruiting as these offices to go from strength to strength.

2. Recently, flexible working has been thrown into the spotlight, what’s your experience of flexible working and work life balance? 

Stowe take the view that as long as the work is being done and the needs of clients were being met, we will not micromanage you. After all, we are all adults! It has been a refreshing approach, and one that is continuing even as we look to move back into the offices on a part-time/ad hoc basis.

I worked in the office full-time before the pandemic and I love a natter with colleagues, so it was not the work, but the lack of social interaction that I really missed. Stowe were extremely supportive of colleagues who have children and caring commitments during the pandemic as they recognised the difficulties of juggling work and family at such a difficult, and often stressful time.

Working from home blurred the work/life balance for me at the outset, and I struggled turning my computer off at a reasonable hour. However, over time I’ve got better at finding a balance that works for me.

I don’t have children yet (although I leave for maternity leave in December – eek!), but flexible working allows me to adjust my working hours to meet my home life rather than stick to rigid office hours that lawyers have been used to for so many years.

4. What daily support and guidance do you get at Stowe? 

The outstanding community and friendly feel is second to none at Stowe. Whether it’s Lawyers having overall support from our in-house billing, IT, CPD and other support teams who allow you to focus on being a lawyer, or the direct support from secretaries and legal assistants, I can confidently say that you don’t feel alone at Stowe – even during the pandemic when we have all been working from home.

As a Partner I support and mentor junior solicitors with an open-door approach and a ‘no question is a silly question (and I really mean that!)’ mentality – after all, we have all been there! Stowe have invested in their Managing Partners with a leadership coaching course, and Partners are now benefiting from the same. Stowe want the best for and from their teams, and they recognise the need to invest in them as people as well as lawyers, so they strive for continual development at all levels and stages of your career.

5. How do Stowe support Lawyer wellbeing?

Stowe spend a great deal of time focusing on wellbeing, even before it was highlighted during the pandemic. Myself, and a number of colleagues nationally are Mental Health Champions so colleagues have a point of contact for signposting if they need. We can access the Employee Assistance Programme for telephone support to help with our emotional, financial, mental or physical wellbeing if needed. Plus, we have regular internal emails about resources such as mindfulness courses with MIND. All colleagues know that should we need it, we have access to a wealth of resources and Stowe will support us.

The introduction of paid ‘wellness days’ has been welcomed by colleagues because every person has different struggles, so having that day to switch off, recharge the batteries and know that you will not be judged by your employer is reassuring. It is brilliant to see that Stowe are taking the lead with these sorts of initiatives.

I work within the Talent Acquisition team here at Stowe with a particular focus across the North. I post a variety of blogs from family law to environmental, wellbeing to progressing careers. Subscribe below to be the first to receive our latest family law newsletters.

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