Freshfields Assistant Named Legal PA of the Year

On the evening of Thursday 12 November, 20 of the UK’s most talented Personal Assistants, Executive Assistants and Office Managers celebrated their successes at the ninth annual PA of the Year Awards.

Hosted by niche business support job board SecsintheCity, the awards were held virtually for the first time. Logging on to Zoom for the awards ceremony, all the hopeful finalists and their supportive bosses fully embraced the event’s traditional black-tie dress code.

Tanya Jennings, PA to a partner at global law firm Freshfields, took the time to answer a few questions about her career so far and what it’s like to be named the 2020 Legal PA of the Year.

Hi, Tanya. How did you become a Legal PA?

“It all started when my dad told me it was time to get a job! After applying for a number of secretarial roles, I joined as a Legal PA at a local law firm. I can picture myself now – I was a nervous wreck. However, I’m not any more, and doing this role has definitely contributed to that!”

What can you tell us about your current role supporting a Partner at Freshfields?

“I’ve got a decent poker face; if I am having a meltdown on the inside, you’re very unlikely to know about it. After joining Freshfields, I remember on one occasion confessing to Piers (the boss) that I was screaming on the inside, despite looking calm on the outside. Working for a Partner at Freshfields can be very intense, very high level and very demanding. However, it equips you with the tools to remain calm, efficient and solution-focused under all circumstances, and these characteristics can be invaluable.”

What do you love about being an Assistant?

“What I love about being an Assistant is that the role can be fast-paced and challenging, across the work and the people, and when you get the balance and dynamics just right, it can be so rewarding.”

You were nominated for the PA of the Year Awards by five of your colleagues – two of whom expressed a desire to clone you! How does it feel to receive such high praise and have your efforts recognised this way?

“They just hadn’t thought through the true impact of their comments... The world would be a very ugly place if there were any more of me in circulation!”

Your nominations frequently referred to your commercial acumen – you attend client lunches, liaise with stakeholders and are contacted by clients directly. What advice would you give to other Legal PAs looking to take on more client-facing responsibility?

“Be brave. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and insights. If you can demonstrate that you have something valuable to offer and that you understand the dynamics of client relationships, opportunities may begin to present themselves on a more client-facing level. It’s then down to you to spot and grasp them, and it can be super rewarding when you do.”

How did you find the PA of the Year Awards interview process?

“I suspect that I took the same approach as all of those who were shortlisted… to review the SecsintheCity site, research the judges and look forward with excited anticipation to see what would happen next. The findings: it was horrendous… kidding! I joked with the judges that the only reason their feedback on the site was positive was because it was the winners who fed back! However, the genuine truth is that both Susanna and Sarah are absolute diamonds. They made the process fun and engaging, and it’ll be like no interview you have had before, for the most positive of reasons!”

This year’s PA of the Year Awards was held virtually for the first time due to Coronavirus. How did you find the ceremony?

“The virtual ceremony went remarkably well. I appreciate how hard it is to arrange these events and to encourage interaction amongst strangers. However, with thanks to the exceptional organisation by the judges and hosts of the event, the evening was a success… and we could do it in the comfort of our slippers!”

How does it feel to be the winner of the Legal PA of the Year Award?

“It started off being great; however, now I am getting screwed over with even more work! Honestly, it’s brilliant. It’s such a shot in the arm to feel well regarded and appreciated and I will continue to explore new and innovative ways to keep providing the best and most efficient support and value that I can.”

How did your colleagues and boss react when they found out you won?

“Piers (the boss) is a legend and is absolutely delighted for me, even if it means that I do get a better opportunity off the back of winning this award and quit working for him (this is a test to see whether he is reading this!). However, more widely, the practice group managers and my colleagues at Freshfields are delighted not just for me but for all of us. We have a top-quality Assistant population at Freshfields, and everyone deserves some recognition for the value they each offer in their own unique and individual way.”

Do you have any good stories from your time as a Legal PA?

“It’s too unfair to ask me that because I’ll screw myself over by sharing something I shouldn’t… So, on that note, I am happy for you to contact me for verbal stories only so that I do not leave a paper trail of evidence that will lead directly to my P45. Hey, I work for lawyers – surely you expected nothing less!”

It would be great if you could tell us in your own words why Legal PAs are so essential to the law firms they work for.

“Not only do we keep all of the plates spinning in the background, but we make it look easy in the foreground. You can trust and rely on us both professionally and as friends, and where a strong Legal Assistant/Lawyer dynamic exists, there is no problem that cannot be easily solved and no crisis that cannot be averted!”

What advice would you give to other Legal PAs hoping to replicate your success?

“Listen; it pays dividends in the long run.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but get the balance right and don’t ask too many or indeed the same questions.”

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; it’s a great way of learning. However, be conscious not to keep repeating the same mistakes…”

“Have a sense of humour; life is much more enjoyable when you approach it with a smile!”

Check out SecsintheCity’s post-event rundown to find out about the rest of this year’s winners.