On 18 November 2021, SecsintheCity – the UK’s only dedicated job site for business support professionals – hosted the 10th annual PA of the Year Awards.
These awards celebrate the successes and accomplishments of Personal Assistants, Executive Assistants and Office Managers from the past year. For the second year running, the PA of the Year Awards were held virtually, but that didn’t stop attendees from turning out in the event’s traditional black-tie attire.
Breanna Worton – a Legal PA working at global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and winner of the Legal PA of the Year Award at this year’s event – took the time to answer some questions about her career, winning this accolade and what it means to her.
Hi, Breanna. How did you become a Legal PA?
At secondary school, I remember having completed my first year of sixth form and telling my parents how much I hated it. I didn’t want to be in a school environment anymore and was just eager to start my career. It was my dear mum that gave me a “get real” moment and told me I was naturally good at organising and arranging people. This skill naturally must have come from bossing my little brother about!
Because of this advice, I spent a whole evening looking at local colleges and what courses they offered. When I saw ILEX City & Guilds Legal Secretarial Course – my eyes widened. I read about the course and it just sounded perfect. I Googled and searched for different jobs and checked out job specs, and what you would wear in the corporate environment. All of it sounded really exciting, so I enrolled! It was a two-year course; I completed it and got my first career-focused job in 2012, and from then on, it’s just gotten better!
What can you tell us about your role at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer?
I’ve been with the firm since 2019 and first started working for my current team just as the UK went into lockdown. This meant I had to build relationships with my stakeholders in a virtual environment. Fortunately for me, I was able to show off my tech skills very early on. My role is incredibly varied. I work for seven amazing Practice Group Managers who challenge and inspire me in so many different ways. I feel extremely valued and respected in my role.
My PGMs give me the opportunity to be the best EA I can be. I represent them on a daily basis by being a role model to other assistants, draft and send emails on their behalf, and fully involve myself in their projects, where I join meetings, provide feedback and contribute to the work from an assistant’s perspective. I remind them of deadlines and proactively chase things up so they don’t have to. Extensive diary management feels like an understatement because between them they manage around 185 assistants. I also liaise with the fee earners and Partners in their practices whilst keeping on top of their day-to-day tasks – it really is a busy, fast-paced environment!
What do you love about being a Legal PA?
I naturally love helping people and giving ideas on how to improve things. Creating and organising is my thing. I am the annoying person that goes on holiday and finds spelling mistakes in the food menus… I’m sure many assistants can relate to that one! My family always come to me for help with documents, whether it’s formatting or spellchecking. I think I’ve created CVs for most of my close relatives!
There is something addictive about creating a beautifully presented formatted document and seeing the impressed look on someone’s face. I live for it! On top of that, the skills we use in our corporate world we can apply to our personal lives. For example, I have Excel spreadsheets for my personal banking, budgeting for Christmas, birthdays, checklists so we don’t forget anyone, and so on. The fact that we can combine our skills to benefit us in both home life and work life is brilliant. What’s not to love?
Your nomination opened with “Breanna is a force of nature.” How does it feel to receive recognition like that?
We have thousands of words in the English language and I’m still struggling to find the right ones to use. I laughed and it brought tears to my eyes. I’m passionate about my career and strive to be the best – a little healthy competition never hurt anyone. It really is the best feeling to hear that your stakeholders recognise how hard you are working. I will remember this moment forever.
How did you find the PA of the Year Awards interview process?
The interview process was great! I was put at ease right from the beginning, which made the interview really enjoyable and fun. It was just as well it was scheduled for 30 minutes because I could have talked for much longer!
Do you have any interesting or funny stories from your time as a Legal PA?
I used to work for an individual who was head of finance; he was a fabulous person but very “to the point”. He was telling me how he was struggling for time and didn’t know what to work on next… we carried on talking and I let him de-stress. To help him, I decided to put together a presentation for a meeting he was hosting for a charity event that had come to an end. I added speaker notes along with pictures from the event and sent it over to him. I remember seeing him run out of his office and say, “Is this the best you can do? Because it’s absolutely incredible!”
The first seven words of that sentence terrified me, until he laughed out the next four. He was more relieved than anything and was so happy and shocked that I had just done this out of the blue. It’s a fond memory and I often laugh when I think about his reaction – moments like that are why I love my job.
It would be amazing if you could tell us in your own words why PAs are so essential to the organisations and individuals they work for.
Assistants are the secret heroes behind the scenes. We spend endless hours making our bosses look good, protecting their time, anticipating their needs, and driving their projects and day-to-day tasks forward. We know our bosses so well that we see a small amount of information and know what our boss is going to ask us before they ask it.
We are advocates for our bosses’ work, someone our boss can trust and talk to on a personal level as well as a corporate level, and a point of contact for everything they are involved in.
How does it feel to be the winner of the Legal PA of the Year Award?
I was speechless and overwhelmed when my name was announced! All of the candidates were fierce contestants, and I am very proud of all of us. I feel honoured to have won and have hung my certificate in my area at work! It is an incredible feeling to be recognised for your hard work. I really do give it my all and my bosses know that. It’s a mixture of emotions and pride that I will never forget. I love my job and I have great relationships with my bosses; they make each day challenging, exciting and inspiring. I am extremely lucky and thoroughly enjoy working with each of them.
How did your colleagues and boss react when they found out you won?
My bosses were all so proud of me! One of them was present at the event and jumped up in such excitement when my name was announced, danced around, and then realised she had forgotten to unmute so quickly unmuted and then repeated!
I was inundated with messages from my peers at Freshfields saying congratulations. Some Partners and the COO congratulated me; he even did a shout-out in our London Town Hall, which has over 1,000 attendees, so it was really promoted – that was incredible, and I ran and told my husband “I just got a shout-out!” I’ve been showered with so much support, value and kindness and I can’t thank everyone enough for allowing me to experience this. What a career highlight – I am on cloud nine!
What advice would you give to other Personal Assistants hoping to enter the 2022 PA of the Year Awards?
Keep shining and doing the best you possibly can. Volunteer for tasks outside of your own role. Help others, and find individuals that inspire you, learn from them and pass that knowledge on.
Write down your achievements as and when they happen and remember your hard work is appreciated, even if your stakeholders do not always voice it.
This year’s PA of the Year Awards were held virtually, for the second year running. How did you find the ceremony?
It would have been fantastic to celebrate the awards with my colleagues in person, but we must stay positive in these strange times. The virtual ceremony was fabulous – everyone made an effort, and it was lovely to see everyone dressed up and excited for a fun event dedicated to assistants and managers. The team managed to keep the event lively and inclusive for everyone, which is very difficult when you have a large number of attendees, so “well done” to our hosts!
Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
I would like to say thank you to everyone who was involved in putting the event together. It is clear a lot of effort went into it, and I am very grateful. I’m pleased this event is dedicated to assistants and managers and that we are promoting our worth. Those who do not have their own assistants simply do not know what they are missing out on, and hearing all the things we do and what our bosses are grateful for via this channel will hopefully encourage more individuals to realise the inevitable… they need an assistant!
The role is so varied, which can mean going above, beyond and out of this world can be expected. Though [we are] appreciated, it’s not always verbalised, so to give individuals the opportunity to feel this, experience this and be nominated by someone you work for is really inspiring. This is something everyone should be doing to help motivate each other and recognise talent and hard work. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Learn more about the 2021 PA of the Year Awards and the rest of the winners by checking out SecsintheCity’s event recap.