The new boss of Sheffield’s top law firm has some advice for ambitious young professionals - and it has nothing to do with jurisprudence - “don’t leave it too late to have kids.”
Petra Billing, office managing partner at DLA Piper, has put in decades of hard work to climb from humble beginnings - her dad Peter grew up on the Manor - to make it to the top of Sheffield’s legal sector.
But in her quest for professional success she put off having a baby until she was 36.
What followed was four years of “fun” trying - and two rounds of IVF - a “tough, hard, involved process” - until she and husband Simon had Florence, now aged six.
The scare of so nearly missing out on motherhood has had a powerful effect on her view of women trying to “have it all.”
“You sort of think as a woman you can have everything. I always assumed we would have children but it didn’t happen as quickly as we expected and we needed extra help.
“IVF is a very tough process and it involved a lot of disappointment.
“It worked for me, but it was a very close-run thing, and we feel very lucky to have Florence who is an absolute joy to be around. She is our greatest achievement beyond any doubt.
“My advice to both men and women is don’t leave it too long. Life has moved on from when I started in the profession. There is much more flexible working and diversity.”
Then she jokes: “My team performance management reviews can get very personal!”
DLA Piper is the world’s biggest law firm, with 4,000 lawyers. In Sheffield, it employs 322 people at 1 St Paul’s overlooking the Peace Gardens.
Petra joined in 2000 and was made partner the following year.
A property litigation specialist, she is also the lead for mining and minerals across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She is also a trustee on the board of St Luke’s, a role she finds “truly humbling”.
On September 1 she succeeded Richard May in the top job and now spends a good proportion of her time in the leadership role while maintaining her fee-earning work.
“I like to make decisions following consultation and we have a strong group of partners in the Sheffield office with very distinguished careers. They are at the top of their game.”
But while her bosses believe she has the drive, brains and talent, she says she couldn’t have done it without her family.
Husband Simon, who works full time as a projects manager for a gaming business, Tecsport Inc, is the cook, her “domestic goddess and rock” and thanks to grandparents and family, they have never had a shortage of babysitters.