Lots of people saw the pandemic as a way to reinvent their working life. Employment solicitor Tom Devlin tells Adam Lanigan what that meant for him and his family.
For many, the Covid pandemic was a line in the sand moment. Trying to juggle work and family life proved an impossible task. Children’s needs never change, while the discovery of Microsoft Teams and Zoom made working from home the new normal and allowed many firms to almost seamlessly carry on with their affairs. Something had to give. For employment law solicitor Tom Devlin, that meant a change from working for a national law firm, based on a traditional private practice model, to taking an in-house role as an employment lawyer for the National Education Union. It was a case of using the same skills, but regaining control over his family life.
“I look back on that period, in particular the first lockdown, as being a pretty tough time,” says Tom. “My wife, Tina, works for the NHS, so quite rightly she had to be at hospital at such a critical point. But that left me at home looking after our three daughters (at the time they were all under six-years-old), while still doing a full-time job. And my job actually got busier. There was no way I would have been furloughed as suddenly there was a real employment law implication of what was happening, given how the pandemic was affecting everything to do with work. So I was bogged down with that and having to try to deal with the demands of three kids under six, who needed help and attention from me as well.
“That was probably the tipping point, but looking back, I think I had been worn down a bit over the years. My immediate boss, who I got on very well with, had just got a different role too, so that was the catalyst for me to change. I had been at the same firm for 14 years doing broadly the same role and there was no sign of any opportunity to try something different or progress. When I was offered this new opportunity, my old firm did offer me some other roles, but I refused all of them. I would not have been offered those posts if I had not told them I was leaving and I had already signed a contract to start my new role and, while some people are happy to do the opposite, I think that if you have agreed terms and signed a contract then that should be final.
“I started the new job last summer and I felt different immediately. I have swapped the traditional career path of law but I have a much better balance in my life. I’m now able to spend all of my time using employment law to help people, rather than being distracted by some of the things that come with a private practice law firm like billing and recording your time that were only adding to the sense of pressure I felt. Before my hours were long and variable. On occasions, I worked weekends, well into the evenings and on bank holidays. Now there is some travel but almost all of my work is done in traditional office hours.
“There is less physical and mental tiredness. I now feel like I am more invested in my children and I can enjoy the experience of watching them grow up, which is something I wanted to have as a parent as this is time that you never get back. I am more patient and relaxed with them and definitely a better dad. It’s easier for me to now switch off and not be thinking about work and all the things that need doing when I am out with the kids. I can finish at a reasonable time and I can stop for 15 minutes for a cup of tea when they get home from school to find out how they have got on. The best way to describe it is to say that I’m more present in family life.
“Sometimes moving up the career ladder comes at the expense of your family where you have to make sacrifices. But I have made the right career move for me and I couldn’t be happier.”