After completing a geography degree, Gillian Hunter decided to take a law conversion course, which began her successful legal career. She has had two gruelling cancer treatments but has not let this dull her determination and makes her “focus more on the ‘here and now”.
Where do you call home?
Tynemouth, although I grew up in Gateshead.
Tell us about your role?
I am the managing partner of northern commercial law firm Square One Law.
How did you get to where you are today?
I was the first in my family to go to university. I was an only child and state school educated until 16. I did a geography degree at Newcastle University, then didn’t know what I wanted to do so I applied for the law conversion course at Northumbria Uni and loved it! I did lots of work experience and decided I wanted to be a commercial lawyer. I finished my law finals in 1996 and joined a Newcastle firm where I trained and stayed for 20 years, making my way up from trainee to assistant solicitor, associate, partner and then equity partner. I also developed a specialism in IP and IT law, which was booming due to the growth in technology.
In 2014, I was headhunted by a national firm to become national head of IP and IT and Newcastle office partner. I enjoyed the challenge, but the predominance of the work was in the public sector, and I missed my private sector clients.
So, in May 2018 I joined Square One Law as managing partner and head of commercial and I have found my ‘home’! I enjoy working with our talented, enthusiastic team and helping our valued clients on exciting projects. As a business, we are always looking to grow and develop and in the three years I have been in role, we have opened two new offices in Darlington and Leeds, both of which are thriving.
What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?
On a work front, I am in a very male dominated sector – at a senior level. Many women come into law but then struggle to reach their potential when they have children, so most equity partners are traditionally male, particularly in commercial firms. I have always tried to balance work and home life, as both are precious to me, but it isn’t always easy. I’m a single mum of two children and sometimes you have to accept you can’t be all things at all times to all people. But I will try damn hard to be!
On a personal level, I have been through two fairly gruelling cancer treatments. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and it returned, having spread in 2016. This has taught me resilience beyond anything I could ever have imagined. It has also reinforced the value of friends and supporters who got me through some pretty difficult times. I’m on an even keel at the moment health wise, but cancer stays with you in your mind, even when it’s under control in your body. That does have its benefits, though, as it provides focus on the “here and now” and makes you less afraid to speak your mind and make sure you are heard – what’s the worst that could happen?
Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?
Success comes in different shapes and sizes. Surviving and thriving during the pandemic last year, despite the unforeseen and unexpected challenges which made it one of the most difficult years in business for many years, is at one end of the scale. At the other end is seeing someone you have invested time in developing achieve something great for them. At Square One Law, we celebrate our clients’ successes and there is nothing more satisfying than working with someone over the years while they build their business and then seeing them sell it when it has reached its potential. And on a more recent note, winning the 2021 Corporate Law Firm of the Year award from Insider Media gives recognition to all our clients for the work they have entrusted us to do and to our fantastic people for a great team effort.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young females?
Be brave and don’t be afraid of change.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stop worrying about what other people think and do what you know is right inside.
What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?
You are stronger than you think (I know it’s not three words).
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