Sarah-Jane Butler was a senior assistant at BLP when she left to set up Parental Choice, a move which has allowed her to spend more time with her two daughters. She now advises parents across the country on their rights from maternity leave to returning from parental leave and her company assists with finding good quality childcare too.
mtl: Hi, please can you tell us about your legal career. Sarah-Jane: I trained at Linklaters and qualified in 2003 into their capital markets department. After a couple of years I moved to Freshfields in order to specialise in securitisation, After some time in New York and a secondment to Goldman Sachs I moved to BLP in 2007 and stayed there until 2012.
mtl: Why did you leave?
Sarah-Jane: I really liked BLP and was working towards partnership until I returned from maternity leave. I was the only person in my team to be working flexibly i.e. four days a week and I found it very difficult to combine the job with family life effectively. I was unwilling to have full-time childcare and left to set up my own business and give myself a lifestyle where I could see more of my children.
I enjoyed working in the city for over ten years but I don’t miss it now. I really liked my deals and clients but it is a different world when you have children and something had to be sacrificed. Having said that, if I’d thought more about how I could have made my role work, I may still be there…
mtl: How did the idea for Parental Choice come about and what does it offer?
Sarah-Jane: When I was returning to work I found it stressful and time-consuming finding out about flexible working and childcare options and there was nobody who could really help me – so I set up Parental Choice to assist other parents. The site provides all the information that I had tried to find out myself and acts as an advisory service.
Parental Choice (/www.parentalchoice.co.uk) is a “one stop shop” for parents looking for advice and practical information about their legal rights surrounding maternity leave and returning to work after parental leave, as well as providing details of all the childcare options. Our aim is to take the stress and hassle away from parents returning to work.
We work with Lexington Gray (www.lexingtongray.co.uk) to put together flexible working proposals as business plans for our clients so that they follow the correct statutory format and timetable and we help them pitch them appropriately to their bosses. We also advise on different flexible working and childcare options to fit the client’s desired role. This may involve for example providing a client with a list of up to five suitable nannies meeting their requirements, or finding an after-school mentor for a teenager with special needs. For anyone employing a nanny we offer a payroll and contract service.
mtl: What have the challenges been, what do you enjoy most and what are your plans for the future?
Sarah-Jane: My biggest challenge has been marketing and trying to increase awareness of what we do among law firms who could offer our services and support to their staff. I love being my own boss and I really enjoy it when my clients thank me for my help and refer me on to their friends and families.
My aim has always been to help other mothers be better prepared than I was for working after having children and as I have a soft spot for lawyers I am keen to take the business into more law firms. I feel very strongly that working mothers are no less driven or ambitious than they were before, but that they just have different priorities because they have children at home and therefore need to achieve in a different way.
mtl: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Sarah-Jane: Running your own business is a lot of hard work, so really think through your business plan before doing it. It is much harder work than I anticipated and you have to get used to initially having no salary while the business grows, compared to a lawyer’s salary. It is not an easy option and you have to slog.
I’ve had days when I’ve thought it is ridiculous and I could go back to a law firm and have all the support of e.g. an IT department. As a small business you are walking into meetings by yourself, rather than with a big name behind you. You have to really believe in what you are doing to get past the knock-backs…
1994 – 1998
French and German, Bristol
1998 – 1999
1999 – 2000
LPC, Store Street
2001 – 2004
Capital markets, Linklaters
2004 – 2007
2007 – 2012
Left BLP to set up Parental Choice
mtl: Thanks for talking to us Sarah-Jane…
Parental Choice charges £400 (inclusive of VAT) for a flexible working proposal and a childcare search and £250 (inclusive of VAT) for a childcare search. Further fees are payable if you’re searching for a nanny and need payroll and an employment contract.
You can read an article that she wrote in The Guardian here.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.