International Women’s Day 2020: Bonita Wolfenden
Bonita is a Senior Associate and the Head of Residential Property in our Sheffield office:
“As senior associate and head of the residential department in our Sheffield office, I manage a team of 20 solicitors, conveyancers, paralegals and administration staff. Together we provide legal services for clients wishing to buy, sell or re-mortgage property in South Yorkshire and beyond.
At 18, I had originally wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps as a hotelier and came to Sheffield to do a hotel and tourism management degree. Realising it was not for me, I finished the first year and decided to swap to law to challenge myself. When I finished my degree, I was unsure if I wanted to be a solicitor – I toyed with the idea of being a counsellor or mediator for a few months but my father encouraged me to start my LPC and qualify as a solicitor – I now think he was ensuring the standard of care home he would end up in!
I was part way through the second seat of my training contract when I found out I was pregnant. I was apprehensive about telling my training supervisor at Keebles as I was unsure how this would impact on my career progression, but she was so supportive. I had 9 months’ maternity leave and came back to work part time. It took longer to qualify but I was able to spend quality time with my young daughter. I qualified as a solicitor in April 2013 when I was 3 months pregnant with my second daughter. I had a further 9 months’ maternity leave and returned to work part time. I was never made to feel under pressure to return to work full time – my head of department has children himself, so he understood the pressures of a professional career and family life. He has always been extremely supportive.
I started working full time again in September 2018 to focus on my career. I had been promoted to Associate in May 2017 and was determined to reach the next stage of my career quickly. I was promoted to Senior Associate 8 months later. Since then, I have taken over the management of the residential department and grown the team from 11 to 20 staff in just 18 months, increasing the turnover by 42% this financial year. I am actively involved in the business development and networking that the department and firm take part in which can see me out in the evenings after work at least one a week. In February, I attended the Consulegis European Law conference in Bordeaux and gave a presentation to group of European and international lawyers about an area of law I do not work in – it is really important to keep challenging yourself.
As well as managing the department day to day, I run my own caseload and supervise six fee earners. I am part of the firm’s trainee recruitment panel and also work with organisations such as the Ahead Partnership to help engage children in schools in South Yorkshire. I am currently working with Sheffield Yorkshire Futures, SMBP, DWP and organisations such as Burberry and BT to put together a Work Insight & Skills Week in July 2020 for children in South Yorkshire.
You might wonder where my husband and children fit into my life – finding the balance between a career as a solicitor and family life can be difficult but you have to set yourself clear boundaries and learn to prioritise the important things. Keebles has always allowed me to work flexibility so I could maintain a good work-life balance. I am able to take my children to school three days a week and collect them from school on a Monday and Friday. It is important to find an employer than recognises the importance of work and family life and how achieving that balance will ultimately make employees happier to be at work.
When do I get time to myself? We have yoga classes at work twice a week and I go swimming as much as I can. I have an excellent hypnotherapist who helps me keep my mind healthy and an acupuncturist who sorts out my aches and pains and anything else that goes wrong as I near my forties! It is so important to look after yourself if you have a busy career – something I wish I had started many years ago but am completely embracing now!