Kathryn Taylor, managing partner at Gordon Brown Law Firm LLP

At just 38, Kathryn Taylor is one of only two female managing partners in the North East legal scene. She talks to Francesca Craggs about the inspiration behind her success and the changing face of the sector

Kathryn Taylor, managing partner of Gordon Brown law firm
Kathryn Taylor, managing partner of Gordon Brown law firm

There are many reasons why Kathryn Taylor would never leave the North East.

Aside from her beloved season ticket at St James’ Park, the 38-year-old has her roots firmly planted in the region on both a personal and professional level.

She has made her mark on the region’s legal scene, recently taking over the helm of one of its most established firms, Gordon Brown. Kathryn’s “work hard” ethos has seen her become the second of only two female managing partners in the North East.

Leading a 75-strong team, Kathryn seeks to build on the firm’s 33-year reputation, while embarking on an ambitious growth strategy.

Born and bred in Blyth, Northumberland, her route into law was not a privileged one.

“Coming from a state school, and with no connections in the field of law, breaking into that profession was very difficult. It very much used to be a case of who you know, not what you know.

“I wasn’t massively encouraged at school to go into law and I don’t think many of the kids from Blyth went on to become lawyers. It was my mum who pushed me towards law as a career.”

Kathryn has taken over the future growth of the firm from Gordon Brown himself. He established the full legal practice in 1981, and still remains a well-respected figure in the commercial property scene.

And for Gordon, the firm is in good hands. He recently said of Kathryn: “She is an inspirational young businesswoman who is universally respected – not only for her technical expertise as a lawyer, but for her directness, courtesy and consideration to all who cross her path.”

The firm, which operates from Newcastle and Chester-le-Street offices, now sits in the top 70 firms outside of London, processing up to 500 house purchase transactions per month.

As well as expanding and marketing each of its legal departments, Kathryn is keen to promote the region’s young talent through the firm’s apprenticeship programme.

She said: “It’s really important to the firm to give young people an opportunity and we are very keen to push that. We’ve already put two apprentices through and we’re looking to do more.

“What we identified, particularly for our residential property unit, is that the market is quite competitive for residential conveyancing. We work in a very particular way and we very much like to train our own people.”

As a child, Kathryn’s career aspirations couldn’t have been further from law.

“I wanted to be an archaeologist or a librarian,” she said. “I was accepted to do archaeology at Newcastle University, and that was the point when my mum said what are you going to do with that when you’re older? Thanks to her, I ended up switching to study law at Northumbria University.”

Graduating in 1998, Kathryn’s first legal job was working as a paralegal for Browell Smith & Co.

“It was a six-year path to become a solicitor. When I graduated there was a class of about 100 and only four people got training contracts. It’s such a difficult profession to get into, especially if you don’t know anyone in law and you have no connections.

“I came to the conclusion that if I found a job in law, and I was putting my degree to some use, that was better than nothing at all. At Browell Smith I did industrial disease case work, working with the miners. I worked really hard there and I think having that on my CV helped me eventually get a training contract.”

The much-anticipated training contract eventually came with Alderson Dodds Solicitors in Blyth, where Kathryn worked for two years. She then landed a property role with Newcastle law firm Dickinson Dees – now Bond Dickinson – before joining Gordon Brown in 2007.

Kathryn said: “I went from a very small high street practice, to one of the biggest law firms in the North East. Gordon Brown was somewhere between the two. I was challenged to establish a conveyancing practice at its Houghton-le-Spring office which they’d recently acquired. That’s quite a big challenge and it was a fresh challenge.

“When you’re working for a big law firm you’re very much one of a large number of people. You’re a small fish in a very big pool. For all I loved working at Dickinson Dees, they are a great company to work for, I just felt I’d gone as far as I could there and I needed to do something that was a bit more of a challenge.”

And Kathryn has found much more than just a successful career at Gordon Brown. She also met her fiancé at the firm, head of the residential conveyancing department Geoff Hall. The couple are set to marry later this year at their favourite holiday destination, the medieval town of Tossa de Mar in Spain.

As with many other law firms, the economic climate has proved difficult. And the recent Government changes to legal aid funding has been a huge challenge for the firm to overcome.

Kathryn said: “A big part of our family business was doing legal aid work for clients so that was a blow. Clients now have to fund their own divorce and that really has impacted upon us. We’ve had to look at new ways of generating family work.

“The lucky thing we’ve had is we have a thriving residential property business and that’s really been beneficial to us.”

Moving with the times is vital to the future of the firm, according to Kathryn.

“Everything I read at the moment tells me that the legal market is changing. There’s new entrants to the market, including the likes of Saga, the AA and the Co-op. They’re all coming in and trying to take a proportion of that market away from lawyers. I think unless you change and diversify and move with the times, you’re at risk.

“We’re looking at technology and embracing technology as much as we possible can to save time, money and to attract new business.”

There’s never a typical day heading up Gordon Brown according to Kathryn.

“No day is ever the same. It just takes its own path. It’s probably the best and worst aspects of the job.”

Kathryn prides herself on her personable approach to her staff.

She said: “I like to do everything well and to the best of my ability. That’s the golden rule for me throughout life. I’ve always worked really hard and led by example.

“I think if the people around you can see you working really hard, you lead by example and hopefully they’ll follow suit.

“If you like the people you work with and you get on with them, and you’ve got a good team spirit, that goes really far. That’s the way I manage my staff too. I’m approachable, I listen to my staff and try to resolve any issues they have. I always make time for anybody.”

Family is especially important for Kathryn which is the other reason she has remained in the region.

She said: “I’ve never considered living anywhere else but in the North East. When I was 11, my dad left my mum and she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the same time. She eventually became wheelchair-bound, and myself and my two sisters cared for her.

“She sadly passed away two years ago, but she has always been the biggest inspiration in my life.

“She was very poorly and brought up three girls with very little money, but she was such a strong person and drilled into us to be strong and to work hard. She was a huge inspiration to me and a huge loss. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about her.”

Kathryn still lives in Blyth and she and Geoff like nothing better than walking their pet Labrador along the Northumberland coast at weekends.

She said: “I suppose I don’t have a lot of time to do much else. I also enjoy going out for food or cooking in the house. And watching Newcastle play of course.

“We love being next to the coast and we have a lovely home so we’ve no plans to move.”

And what about Kathryn’s future vision for Gordon Brown law firm?

“I want the business to grow and thrive, survive in the modern market. I want it to embrace technology and use technology to its benefit.

“For a lot of law firms survival is their key aim. We want to survive and grow, and become stronger.”

The Questionnaire

What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?
It’s a lot different to my current career, but I’d love to be a landscape gardener.

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?
‘Tidy up!’ My stepson is 18 and still incredibly messy.

What’s your greatest fear?
Definitely heights!

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
I’ve had a lot of great advice but probably the best is: “Don’t react. Stop, think and consider.”

And the worst?
I wouldn’t be where I am today if I received bad advice.

What’s your poison?
A dry white Sauvignon Blanc or Rioja.

What newspapers do you read other than The Journal?
The Chronicle!

How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
I worked on a Saturday in a betting shop for £24 a week.

How do you keep fit?
I walk my Labrador twice daily for an hour at a time and she definitely makes sure I get a good work out.

What’s your most irritating habit?
Being bossy according to my partner Geoff.

What’s your biggest extravagance?
I overspend on clothes, make-up and perfume, but doesn’t every girl?

Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
I’d say Cinderella for her strong will and determination to go to the ball, even if she is a cartoon.

Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
The Hairy Bikers as I’m a huge fan of their healthy eating books. I love literature so Jeffrey Deaver (who wrote The Bone Collector) can provide some intelligent conversation and Jonny Depp can just sit and look handsome.

How would you like to be remembered?
Honest, genuine and down to earth.

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