Sometimes it takes two shots at London, before you find the fit that feels right. Just ask Molly Woods, 31, a high-flying lawyer from Hastings, New Zealand, now partner at the renowned law firm Ashurst. Molly practises multinationally on mergers and acquisitions, equity capital market transactions and corporate restructurings. Her promotion to partnership at Ashurst in May 2022, after just over five years with the company, means London now feels exactly the right place for her to be.
After studying politics and law at Victoria University in Wellington, Molly worked as a solicitor for top-tier Kiwi law firm Bell Gully, an experience she credits as being “absolutely foundational”. “In a market that's smaller, you take on senior responsibilities faster than over here, yet with incredibly-experienced, brilliant, qualified people as your first teachers and trainers”, she explains.
Molly first came to London in 2016, excited to be heading off on her long-awaited Overseas Experience. Instead, she found herself caught up in the UK’s first wave of Brexit uncertainty, with the recruitment market in her field “absolutely dead”. By 2017, frustrated with the lack of serious opportunities for her in London and resistant to falling into casual temping, she’d booked a one-way flight to Australia to take up a permanent role at Ashurst’s Sydney office. “I was passionate about living overseas, but I was probably more passionate about doing something that made sense for my career”, she says about her surprise decision to relocate to New South Wales. A “stroke of luck” and the support of her Australian mentors at Ashurst led to her return to the London headquarters in early 2019. The pandemic then provided an unexpected boost to building the business case that took her quickly through to partnership, aged only 30, at Ashurst last year.
Molly credits Ashurst’s supportive firm culture for helping her transition back to London without the common career “discount”. Signing the partnership deed at the firm was a decisive career moment for Molly: “I think of myself as a business owner now, and I want to give it all of my energy in the same way as for the last 10 years I gave my energy to being a lawyer.”
For Molly, listening actively to the next generation of up-and-coming lawyers is key. “The workforce is just changing so rapidly, in terms of employees’ expectations and demands, and that's personally what I find the most engaging part of being a partner in a law firm”. Molly wants to foster a workplace culture of inclusion and interconnectedness, and welcomes the more flexible working models which have become accepted since the pandemic. “Every year, social needs change, every time you get a new wave of recruits. Gen X never would have come into the workplace and said, ‘You must listen to what I want’ - never! It's just totally different now, you know; 22-year-olds come in and need to have a voice.”
Because UK and NZ law firms are similarly embedded in a strong sense of heritage and shared traditions, Molly finds working as a lawyer in London remarkably like practising in Wellington. She has adapted to the longer working hours that are the norm in the UK, laughing over the in-house bedrooms available in her London office: “I just think being in a bigger market brings with it a greater expectation from clients of being constantly ‘on’.” While she feels more connected with the rest of the world when in London, this new work-life balance took some adjustment: “In Wellington, I almost literally rolled down the hill to the Terrace, it took only about five minutes!”
Molly remains invigorated by the bustle and jostling of London: “Getting on a busy Tube, coming out Tottenham Court Road and barely being able to cross the street - all of that just gives me energy. I absolutely love it.” Although she gets out of the City to the countryside at the weekends, Molly still enjoys London’s classic touristy activities. “I love walking down Southbank and just feeling like you're living in a movie set, because it's exactly what you picture London to be like in your head as a kid on the other side of the world”, she says.
Molly urges newcomers to the UK not to underestimate their talents: ‘‘Kiwis are absolute gold. Even just having the bravado and the strength in your convictions to move halfway across the world are endearing qualities to employers.”