In a twist to our normal MHC Life series, our next few interviews will focus on WFH & life during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, we chat to Edel Hartog, Partner on our Technology team. Edel talks us through her first jobs and what a typical WFH day entails for her.
Tell us a bit about you and your career journey to MHC – what inspired you to get into this career?
As a proud Cork lady, I started my legal career at UCC and then moved to Dublin for my UCD Masters in Commercial Law and Information Technology.
I toyed with the idea of doing a masters and PhD in Oxford or Cambridge and moving into legal academia and very nearly went that road. But, I'm a tech addict. Seeing how our lives are constantly changing with new technology is a real interest for me. Do you remember your first phone? Mine was one of the Nokia pay-as-you go bricks that I'd send texts from in the UCC Boole library. I loved it. And then, in later years, I loved my iPhone more. So, I couldn't budge the idea that I'd thrive in a hands-on business that witnesses and shapes technology and the law.
Fifteen years later, after twists and veers along the road, I am a Partner in the Technology, Sourcing & Innovation team in MHC and happy for it.
What was your first job?
My first job at 17 was as a pharmacist's weekend assistant. I must have been terrible at the role. Part of my job was to help sell over-the-counter medication and ask the questions you need to ask e.g. are you already taking paracetamol or other medications, are you allergic to any ingredients, do you have other underlying health conditions? I worried constantly about sick patients. I rarely allowed someone to buy a cough bottle without having their phlegmy or dry cough or wheeze listened to by the pharmacist for underlying pneumonia. Needless to say, the budding lawyer in me was already there assessing risk even then!
My first day or so as an apprentice solicitor involved walking through the Dundrum shopping centre construction site wearing a hard hat and high heels, carrying a mound of paperwork and keeping up with my supervising Partner. The high heels were soon ditched.
Talk us through a typical day for you during the COVID-19 pandemic…
A typical day starts before 7am with usual family commitments. Home schooling is a big aspect of our daily life now for my young children. I empathise with working parents with school going children whose day now starts with times tables, spelling tests and handwriting practice! Children are resilient and mine are their usual cheery, demanding, exhausting selves through the pandemic. I am hugely grateful for that.
When I get to my desk at 9am (or 8/8.30am for those early bird meetings!), my day is well underway. I am fortunate to have support so that I can lock out the day's drama and jump wholeheartedly into work. I appreciate that many MHC'ers and our clients may not be in this position and are juggling caring commitments with working from home. More power to you.
My working day is typically as was. A lot of my work with clients pre-COVID 19 centred on calls and email advices and that has continued. Pre-COVID-19, where the nature of the work allowed, I tried to meet clients in their own office settings to understand a little about the fabric of their work. One of my very last "in-office" pieces of work was an enjoyable trip to Wicklow to a client's office for an afternoon of contract discussions. The working from home lock down was announced the following morning. It's funny how I look back on that meeting now with some nostalgia for the "old days". Many of us accept that long, in person, "roll-up-your-sleeves" meetings of this type will not happen again for some time – at least until we can optimise how to do so with physical distancing.
A new aspect of my day is a daily Zoom call with the team to discuss workflows. You learn a little about your colleagues on these calls as they Zoom from their sitting rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and home offices. I'm enjoying seeing my colleagues out of the usual office setting. Even though MHC is very progressive and has had a smart business dress code, without ties, for some while, I am enjoying seeing some colleagues (and clients!) sporting Game of Thrones worthy hairdos and beards.
My day breaks around 6pm for family commitments. I jump back into the drama until bedtime and then typically return to the desk to complete the days work. I took up boxing for exercise before COVID-19 and was hooked. On my good days, my day often ends with a virtual boxing work-out with Dublin twin boxing trainers who train online with great banter. Its a great way to iron out the micro-frustrations of a WFH day and get a little exercise.
Who is inspiring you during this pandemic / favourite quote?
A number of strong leaders are inspiring and shaping my own approach during the pandemic. There are a few, and I won't name who they are, but here are a few traits that I admire and respect.
Within MHC, I have seen strong and compassionate leadership. One which places people and empathy first and makes that workable with keeping a dynamic, ambitious law firm healthy for the future for all of its staff and clients. Hard business truths are acknowledged openly and balanced with a positive attitude that knows that this too will pass. I am proud to be an MHC'er in these times.
Outside MHC, I have seen excellent leaders on the national stage. While not perfect, I believe Ireland's response has been proportionate and humane. The Varadkar/Harris combo has been impressive.
My favourite recent quote is #turnonyourcamera. I read an inspiring LinkedIn piece from a former colleague (now a successful general counsel) that reminded us that many colleagues are working from home through the worry, grief and insecurity of COVID-19 alone or completely out of their comfort zones. If a colleague doesn't turn on their Zoom cameras at working meetings for a while, perhaps look to why and simply ask – are you ok? There is a humanity to the COVID-19 crisis that, as business people and leaders, we must prioritise.
Do you think life as you knew it will change post-COVID-19?
Yes. In many ways, for the better. I can see already how our workforces and law is changing.
The great working from home experiment has truly succeeded and many will benefit from the flexibility that affords as we adapt to live in the longer term with COVID-19. This must surely have knock-on effects for the economy and environment in areas such as traffic congestion, commuting, sustainable rural communities and affordable housing.
Law is pivoting too. Already, we are seeing a move to electronic signatures and paperless transactions being the norm when conventional legal practice doggedly stuck to pen and paper. I do, however, miss my printer!
I won't enjoy prolonged social distancing but there are long term permanent changes arising from COVID-19 that I believe will be very positive.