Alumna Tiffany Lathe (Graduate Diploma in Legal Studies, 2003), Vice President & General Counsel - International at Rackspace, was recently named one of the ‘Top 50 Most Powerful Women’ working in Technology, by the National Diversity Council. We interviewed Tiffany to find out more about the award and how Birmingham Law School helped to shape her career.
What first attracted you to Birmingham?
I chose Birmingham owing to the prestigious reputation of the Law School, the academic rigor of the CPE course, as well as a strong desire to return to the Midlands to be close to my parents and raise my daughter with sheep at the bottom of the garden. As a 31-year-old graduate, with a baby in tow, I had felt that I had better make the right next steps to give myself the best chance of a successful career change into law. I knew that the choice of law school was critical in order for me to secure a decent training contract. Birmingham was the obvious choice.
What was your route into Law?
I graduated with my first degree in History/History of Art from the University of York in 1992 and spent the next ten years in sales and marketing positions, travelling mainly around Europe and the Middle East. It was a wonderful experience but I didn’t feel fulfilled, intellectually or emotionally. This Confucius quote really resonated with me: ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’. I was approaching 30 and decided that I loved people, children and good old fashioned debate. I asked an old friend of mine, who had his own law firm, to give me experience. I reviewed a couple of contracts with him, and knew that I had found my vocation!
Can you tell us a little about your career progression since graduation?
I have been so fortunate. Martineau Johnson (SGH Martineau, then Shakespeare Martineau) took me on before I began the CPE at Birmingham. The maintenance allowance paid for decent child care and they were simply marvellous throughout my training. Diane Price, the HR leader at the time, was particularly helpful and informative. She helped me transition into the role and provided a great sounding board on real life issues for mature working mothers. I had a solid training, under former class partners such as Andrew Stilton, David Allison, Helen Driscoll and former managing partner Bill Barker who led the IP/IT team. I decided to qualify into that team and was mentored by Tom McGuire (now at Taylor Vinters) who taught me so much, especially the value of translating complex legal advice into practical commercial choice. I owe my career to date to Tom. He onboarded Rackspace as a new client that he had met at Internet World, grew them to one of our firm’s top 10 and positively supported my move in-house as their first lawyer in London.
Can you tell us a little more about your experience of forging a successful career at Rackspace?
I’ve had a lot of help! In the main, I kept my head down, and worked hard at helping our young sales force close deals. I spent a lot of time tweaking our terms and concentrating on increasing our deal velocity with a true risk based approach. As the company grew, I was able to take on more lawyers; it’s been particularly rewarding taking on junior lawyers and watching them flourish. Early on, I realised that I needed professional help, so I got myself a phenomenal coach, Sophie Turner (now partner development coach for Pinsents). After six months, I had been promoted to Vice President; I will never underestimate the value of a great coach.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have had many highlights, but the one that sticks out is when our chairman, Graham Weston, phoned me up out of the blue to tell me that he had heard that I was one of his very best leaders at developing talent and fostering high engagement. He asked me if I would consider running our HR team as well as Legal. Eventually I accepted and did my bit to help our little company rise from 96th place on the Sunday Times Best Companies list to 7th place in the mid-sized category.
You were recently named as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology. How did it feel to receive this accolade?
I was initially a bit embarrassed. What made it special was that it meant so much to our female lawyers, who held a surprise celebration party for me at our headquarters in Texas. Seeing it matter to such amazing, strong and intelligent women was humbling. I am so lucky to work every day with some very clever women who code rather than cook (well some of them are great cooks too!). We also have an exceptionally strong team of female lawyers that are a pleasure to work for. My main advice to my fellow female colleagues is to never think you have to check all the boxes to reach the next level in your career. Go for it and give examples of when you have learned on the job and ramped your skill set quickly. The only person that will hold you back is you.
How do you feel your studies have influenced or helped you in your career?
I wouldn’t have got where I am now without Birmingham Law School. Not only did I get an exceptional tutelage, but I also met some exceptionally talented lecturers who inspired me in practice areas that I previously had little interest in. Professor Anthony Arnull in particular springs to mind. I thought that the whole EU business was as dull as dishwater, until I heard him lecture. I’m so glad I listened, as I am now spending most of my day advising our business and customers on the data protection and sovereignty implications of Brexit.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Birmingham?
Although the Harding Law Library was my second home, my favourite memories are of spending time with the charismatic Frank Meisel, every lunchtime, in the bar next to the Law School. I’m still laughing at his terrible jokes 15 years on!
What do you enjoy to do when you are not at work?
I am not off work much, but when I am there is no greater pleasure than a hot bath with a good book. Despite being a tech lawyer, I am resisting the urge to read everything on my iPad, thankfully.
What is next for you?
I’d like to give something back and am exploring the idea of voluntary work for start ups in the tech sector. Would love to help an idea grow and bear fruit from scratch. Otherwise, I’d like more time in the bath with a good book.