Major  Family Law, North East’s leading Divorce and Family Law specialists, comment in the North East Times: As Major Family Law celebrates 5 years in business and its most successful year to date, we talk to practice founder and experienced solicitor, Joanne Major, on the ups and downs of being a woman in business.

“Statistics show there are now almost 1.5 million women self-employed which represents an increase of around 300,000 since before the economic downturn. Whilst women account for under a third of those in self-employment, they represent over half the increase in self-employment since the recession started in 2008. It seems that female entrepreneurs really are doing it for themselves.

“I am now in my fifth year of self-employment and having started from scratch, working alone from my kitchen table, I’m immensely proud of Major Family Law and all we have achieved to date. Like many women setting up on their own, I wanted some flexibility to work in a way that would enable me to also spend time with my family. I had forged a successful career as a family lawyer, I had found my vocation and was passionate about it but wanted to work on my terms. I admit it has been much harder than I ever imagined and want to share some of my thoughts with anyone planning to ‘go it alone’.

Recent surveys show that Women make up around 47% of the legal profession, but only 16% are at partner level compared to 38% of male solicitors in private practice. Whatever the underlying message is of the statistics, my experience is that the decision to become your own boss, in whatever form of enterprise you decide to follow, passion and determination are never enough.

Armed with only a practising certificate, insurance and a handbag, I set up Major Family Law. Who thought it would be that easy? But, my biggest obstacles have come not from practising as a lawyer – that was the easy part – but from the challenges of running a business itself.

I was lucky that Major Family Law grew more quickly than I had anticipated. However, that meant I needed more practicing certificates, more insurance, more IT support and a greater awareness of cash flow. I learned how to do budget forecasts and forward projections, having never had to consider them previously, and I developed a network of excellent contacts, more by default than by way of organized good practice. I’ve discovered that I need a licence to play music in the office and having tweeted and written about the benefits of Social Media, found I need a licence for Twitter if referring or linking to other material. Who knew?

Each year as the Practice has grown, I have learnt how to push myself and test my resilience. Unlike some of my competitors, I have been a sole practitioner and have been the only the decision-maker, marketer and driver. I have encountered obstacles from other Family Lawyers and I’ve had to remain very focused. I’ve discovered that to succeed in business you must have an indomitable spirit, a great belief in yourself and your abilities and the ability to overcome a setback.

I’ve also learnt to be humble, to ask for advice and to try remain positive in the face of adversity. I have had the pleasure of being introduced to many other lawyers and non-law business owners, both men and women, who have encouraged me and offered not just guidance but their friendship. I’ve become involved in charitable and educational projects and am always honoured to be asked for assistance. I have made mistakes certainly but when I look at the dedicated and loyal team working so hard at Major Family Law, I know I did the right thing branching out on my own.

And of course, aside from being a businesswoman, my profession is as a lawyer, which in itself is a hugely demanding and competitive role. The law is ever-changing, and recent years have brought unexpected challenges with the widespread changes to availability of public funding to family law cases. Whilst my practice has never dealt with legal aid cases, the ramifications of the changes have been felt across the profession, and we have all had to adapt to a politically driven approach to family law proceedings in recent times, as well as a reduced marketplace.

With the right approach though, change and challenges bring growth and new opportunities, and Major Family Law prides itself on seeking out forward-thinking, innovative approaches to delivering our services. So often when we’re young, we seek nothing more than to fit in and be accepted. One of the benefits of experience and a few more years is to be able to see how having the conviction and courage to stand out and be different is a positive advantage. Professionalism does not have to mean conservatism, and I have enjoyed the creative freedom to develop my marketing skills, using everything from milk bottles to beer mats to explore brand development.

Whilst I have driven and grown the business, I have to say that I very much believe that the success of Major Family Law is a team effort, and I am extremely proud of my team, who are all loyal, committed and hard working. Together we have built a professional reputation on both a local and national level, which has resulted in top level recognition in professional directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners as well as a Family Law Award for Innovation.

In so many ways, my life is richer for starting my own business and I am hugely grateful to all those who have helped me in the past five years, whether directly or indirectly. What comes next is still unknown. What I do know is that I have many ideas and dreams still unfulfilled. I will continue to grow Major Family Law, which I hope will ultimately give me the scope to pursue my other dreams and interests. Come back and ask me again in another five years what I’m doing then!

Joanne Major is Managing Director of Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne  Tel: 01661 824582  twitter: @majorfamilylaw