My family story is not one of generations of lawyers. My great grandfather was a coal miner in Wales.
I went to school in South Africa and grew up in the apartheid era. My parents moved there when I was a small child and I had always wanted to move back to the UK. I applied to read law at Bristol University and I’ve never regretted it. I worked at the Albion pub in Clifton to pay some of my way through university.
Before I decided to read law, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I’ve always been fascinated with Egyptology and I did a dissertation at the end of high school on artefacts coming out of Luxor. My parents pointed out how few jobs there would be in that field and they were probably right.
There’s still about 5% of me that would love to be an archaeologist. I’ve been to Egypt quite a few times and when lockdown finishes I’m going to Cairo. They’ve built this incredible new museum just next to the pyramids.
When I first started as an antitrust lawyer, it was right when the amnesty programme for cartels was coming in. I focused on achieving immunity from mega fines for our clients in cartel cases. I acted for the first Japanese company under the European system, and for European companies. That was an exciting line of work.
When I was qualifying, the teams that wanted me to join were antitrust and corporate. I settled on antitrust because I like the technical nature of the law, which also gave me the ability to work on transactions. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to work on big deals, do all-nighters, sign and pop champagne. I’ve got the best of both worlds.
I’m known for being passionately collaborative. I see huge opportunities when you bring people together into teams, working on big cases, developing a new service line, or visiting clients. Well, Zooming with clients, in the new world.
My leadership style is inclusive. I led the global antitrust group for six years. It’s amazing what people with different skillsets can achieve if you encourage and organise them to work together. In a leadership position, you need to always be upbeat for your team and sometimes that can be difficult if you’re not feeling focused on driving things forward all the time. I did an excellent job of pulling the global antitrust group together in a way it hadn’t been before. It was probably my greatest contribution to Baker McKenzie.
People say I’m generous with my time. It’s a good thing to bring to the leadership table but it can be harder to take tough management decisions because you’re always trying to help people all of the time.
The time I’ve spent on our London management committee has helped me understand that I’m not going to please everybody. I’ve developed the ability to take tough decisions and deal with them in the most sensitive manner possible. If you are fair, transparent and can explain what’s happening and why, you can bring most people along, even if the outcome you’re seeking to achieve is not what everyone wanted.
I was a final candidate for the chair role at Baker McKenzie and I was a candidate for London managing partner. You might think I regretted being part of those processes because I didn’t prevail, but I don’t at all. In the chair process I ended up getting down to the final six, which is quite an achievement. I really enjoyed the privilege of sharing a platform statement with partners around the world setting out what we should do strategically. I don’t regret being part of the London process either. It was a good, challenging experience.
Lawyers are perfectionists and if you don’t succeed at something you’re an utter failure, but that shouldn’t be right. You need to see the positives in those experiences and learn from them. I hope there isn’t somebody out there thinking – ‘well, she should be regretting this or that’!
I was very close to Paul Rawlinson and I’m so sad about what happened to him and how his life ended. He was the epitome of generosity and he was good fun. He was inspirational and motivating. That was a tragedy I regret happening for his family foremost but also for our firm. He was passionate about social mobility and we’ve got a focus on that in his memory. Also mental health which, during lockdown, has been an issue for pretty much everybody.
Business isn’t going to be the same. There is a fundamental imperative that businesses are more caring and have more focus on stakeholder capitalism rather than shareholder capitalism. It’s a real opportunity for business leaders. The government focus on climate change for the first time feels real to me. Funding is being directed toward environmental imperatives. There has been a shift in society towards no longer tolerating injustice. The Black Lives Matter movement epitomises that. The legal industry needs to fit into this societal agenda and show we are relevant.
Coronavirus has shown us that it is perfectly possible to deliver legal services and run our business from home, in the short term. Longer term, there are mental health issues around not having separation between home life and work life. Our firm has a culture of global friendship and we thrive on meeting up and having fun while working hard together. That has been difficult.
A nice thing about lockdown has been the privilege of seeing people’s family environments. I’m conscious of how lucky we are working in professional services and being able to work from home, having Zoom calls with interesting people.
A big passion is swimming outdoors and I can’t do that at the moment either! I’m missing that. 2020 was going to be my year of travel. I’ve cancelled holidays to Zanzibar and to the Galapagos, the two most northern islands of Darwin and Wolf. We had booked a live-aboard boat to get to these islands and dive with the whale sharks.
I’m inspired by women I admire. Christine Lagarde was an antitrust lawyer and a labour lawyer. She was part of the team of 15 lawyers that practised antitrust back when I first started. I’ve watched what she has done with her career with pleasure. I admire the way Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, combines strong acumen and technical skills in running the country with the most incredible compassion for people. I wish there were more people like that in the world.
I watched a documentary about Sylvia Earle, pretty much the most famous scientist who is also a scuba diver in the US. ‘Mission Blue’. Fascinating. Another amazingly inspirational woman, although she didn’t do so well on the marriage front. In those days when she was trying to go on scientific trips exploring the Indian Ocean, she was supposed to be at home looking after her children. It took a toll on her ability to hold onto her husbands!
My husband owns a PADI scuba diving school in Chiswick. It takes divers to complete their open water training to a muddy lake near Heathrow! Or they can go and complete it in an exotic location. Around the dinner table we don’t talk about the intricacies of competition law, we talk about the wonderful places one might scuba dive. Our fridge has got pictures of all these incredible places. St Helena. The diving in Malta is supposed to be incredible and in Belize it is apparently out of this world.
Our children are 18 and 22. They’ve only recently left home, though of course they’re back again now. I had to promise myself that the time occupied with looking after my children wasn’t replaced with more work. It’s about discipline.
About ten years ago I took a sabbatical. I became a PADI dive master, the first level of the professional side of recreational scuba diving. It took six weeks to get that qualification as it involves exams. You also have to do swimming tests and I’ve kept that going as a way to unwind.
I went to the Caribbean for the second part of my sabbatical. Went on a yacht around the Grenadines. Breathtakingly beautiful and largely unspoiled islands. Amazing. When I was there I let my laptop die, and then I let my phone die. I was completely uncontactable for four whole weeks. I didn’t realise how much I needed that break. I came back so refreshed and happy to carry on. It taught me I’m a person separate from my legal career and from Baker McKenzie. It’s a good thing to find out. I do this now and I really enjoy it but I know that if I went onto do something completely different I could be very happy.
We have a town house in St Lucia. I would like to go and live there one day. I’ve got a few ideas on what I might do. Something like mediation for businesses and on a pro bono basis for people that live there. I need to have a dream. People retire and then bumble around the house. That is not me! I’m passionate about marine conservation. I would like to do some work with the Marine Conservation Society or National Geographic. I feel strongly about making a contribution.
I’m a time-starved lawyer. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read a book for a whole year. I read Michelle Obama’s autobiography and I really liked it. It takes the August holiday for me to read a book and this one disappeared. There’s always more to read about what I advise on. The Competition and Markets Authority has put out new guidance for consultation on the merger control process they’ll be using after this year. I need to read that this weekend!
Samantha Mobley is a partner in the EU, competition and trade practice of Baker McKenzie’s London office and a member of the London office management committee.
Photography by Alistair Veryard