And The Winner is: Introducing Inspiring Legal PA Award Winner Selina Yelland
Posted: 18th Mar 2016 | Share this Article:
Following on from the Oscars! Cornerstone42 felt it was only right to honour our talent in the PA and EA profession.
This is a great opportunity to read and learn from former PA award winners about their PA journeys past, present and future and the defining moment when they decided to enter for ‘that’ award.
I am delighted to introduce Selina Yelland. On the 25th February Selina won the award for Legal PA of the Year 2016. The Legal Support Awards, was hosted by Strictly Recruitment, and continues to grow and attract an array of national competitive talent across the legal support sector.
Selina, is currently a Legal PA at Michelmores LLP. Through winning the award, Selina who works closely with the Exeter PA Network, hopes to encourage other PAs to seek opportunities and to progress their personal development goals.
Selina balances family life with her career working a three day week around her three young children –with her recent award success she is certainly flying the flag for all of the PAs who are working flexibly, whilst stretching and challenging any boundaries along the way.
Tell us about your journey on becoming a PA?
After studying law and other various A Levels at College I wanted to get out into the working environment within a law firm to see what I would like to do. 14 years ago I applied for an admin assistant role within Michelmores and worked my way up to supporting the Real Estate Department as a Legal Secretary that has evolved into a Legal PA. I have really enjoyed learning all aspects of my role and becoming an expert in my field.
What are your main responsibilities?
I support three transactional real estate lawyers. The role is extremely fast paced and the ability to juggle multiple priorities for several people while coping with workflows from various lawyers can be a real challenge, not to mention the numerous phone calls and email traffic! The PA role within Michelmores has really developed over the last 4 or so years. Typing has been outsourced to our Legal Document Specialist Team and our ability to delegate admin/copying to our assistants has allowed us to upskill as the expert legal assistant, specialising in the area of legal service that we provide to our lawyers and ultimately deliver to our clients. We manage our lawyer’s financials on their client files, diary management, client relations, operate internal systems to deliver the service. I have been involved with marketing initiatives and organising events, the opportunities are very open ended as to what we can become involved with. For example, many PAs utilise their skills by leading and managing firm wide projects to improve productivity – they are the ones driving/using the resources and hence have the most knowledge of what works well, their input is vital and the firm recognises that.
Tell us about this particular award and why you were nominated?
The Legal Support Awards have been running for 4 years. It is a huge step in the right direction for support staff to receive the recognition as the industry is very much lawyer orientated and the support they receive often gets overlooked. I wanted this award as the Legal PA role is specialised, as is the legal industry and would be a perfect match for my experience. I worked on my own nomination as part of my mid year appraisal. It was a great opportunity to reflect on my successes and I wanted to get as much value as I could out of them. I worked extremely hard on producing internal finance training which was rolled out to the firm and later branded PAssist supporting all PAs from trainees to experienced. I developed role specific training guides for Land Registry, Searchflow and SDLT guidance which not only assisted PAs but supports our trainee lawyers who rotate seats across the firm. I later found out that I was nominated by a colleague which was a lovely surprise – although I am pleased that I managed to add all of the details and could explain my passion around training others.
Describe to us the process what did it entail?
I had to answer several questions for example what has been the biggest challenge, an example of going above and beyond, an example of a stressful situation and what was the outcome? It was great to give yourself the opportunity to reflect on the times you have gone over and above. I obtained testimonials to support my examples and shared my nomination with my marketing team to make sure it had the right tone and the messages were clear. I submitted the nomination on behalf of my firm as they agreed to support me. A week or so later I found out I had been shortlisted top 10, then top 5! I was absolutely thrilled, I really did not think they would read it as it was not text restricted and I took advantage of that! I had a few days notice then off to London for a panel interview by some of the largest international law firms Pinsent Masons and Berwin Leighton Paisner to name a few. Rather than feeling intimidated or nervous, I threw myself into talking about my work, why I ran my training and why the future of the Legal PA is to upskill to add value – that was my message. If lawyers are being trained to utilise their professional support and delegate tasks outside of their PA, then the PAs themselves need to be commercial. I asked myself how can I make a difference and improve my lawyer’s productivity. Personally I felt finance was an easy win and that is how my PA training began its journey. I left feeling full of enthusiasm, I could have talked all day and they seemed to be quite happy with that concept. The winner would be announced a week later at the awards ceremony.
Did you tell anyone you had entered in particular any of your work colleagues what was their reaction? If your answer is no, why not?
Oh yes, I collaborated with everyone. I wanted fresh eyes all around me to read and give me feedback on what messages came through. It was a great experience and a good way for your colleagues to support you and to buy in to your journey. I wasn’t going to wait for an opportunity to come my way I went out and found one. Everyone has been incredibly supportive through the whole process and to feel as if they have somehow contributed really adds to our success as a team initiative.
Talk us through those exciting moments when you heard your name being announced.
At the awards evening I was incredibly nervous. Not only because my firm had released PR about me being shortlisted but because I really wanted it. I wanted to feel the success of winning not just to feel the glory that came with it, but to know that the judges really listened to my ideas and respected my work. I arrived with two other colleagues and my husband. We were surrounded by various lawyers and support teams from international large law firms in central London. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, I managed to mingle with the other finalists the judges recognised me and that felt very reassuring as well as the few glasses of wine that soon followed!
The categories ranged from Team Leader, to Mentor of the Year, Best Client Service, Rising Star and the final award The Legal PA of the Year. They announced all of the winners and my category was last I held my breath …they announced…The runner up… it wasn’t me…then the winner is …still holding breath …Selina Yelland …is the Legal PA of the Year – absolutely amazing. I cannot tell you the feeling of winning, it was a completely electric moment, I instantly felt success, recognition which gave me a satisfying inner calm – something everyone should feel. If I could have only bottled that feeling up!
Do you think winning this award has impacted your career?
Yes. I believe it has raised my profile with key people within my workplace, I have been overwhelmed by the support and lovely messages received. Insofar as changes it has definitely challenged any boundaries around flexible working. I hope that it has provided others with a drive to seek recognition and to identify their personal brand in terms of selling their skills to an audience. To seek out opportunities that may not be so visible internally by going externally- they can open up many doors from reaching wider networks to making changes to your own workplace. Through my training programmes, a training need has been identified for an internal trainer role, so if anything more PAs will have access to personal development and resources going forward and I am happy with that. I have an article coming out on awards (25 March) by PA Life so if I can use my own personal experiences and reach out to other PAs then that is a complete win to me. I want to encourage all PAs to be the best that they can be or as I say it through my training….be better tomorrow than we are today…do not be tempted to stand still, keep on learning, reacting and developing.
What do you enjoy most about being a PA?
I like the unknown of what each day can bring. I like the ability to be proactive, to think for my team and anticipate their requests. I have enjoyed becoming an expert with all internal resources and as a result, driving forward operational systems to become even more productive and efficient. Going forward I particularly appreciate the ‘career’ feeling that has become associated with being an assistant and that we are becoming respected as incredibly skilled people that can react and adjust to guarantee the most credible outcome that businesses completely rely on. PAs offer that unselfish dedication to enhancing the support of another, whilst seeking challenges to develop themselves. PAs are no longer invisible or behind the scenes, the movement towards seeking recognition has been magnified and supported by all of the networks, associations and awards currently offering just that. It is a great time to be a PA.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Working flexibly can be a challenge. Being even more efficient with my time management to make sure I succeed week in and week out. My time evaporates into thin air before my feet manage to touch the ground. Working with a job share can be difficult although I am extremely lucky to have a great relationship. Communication and honesty provide solid foundations to build trust and that is vital. Other than that managing expectation with clients and lawyers, to be resilient at times and to deliver the impossible when there is no other alternative, if the deal needs to happen then that is how it is. You need to be flexible and allow for working beyond your hours. At times sometimes the assistant needs an assistant! When you wish to progress your career, whilst working flexibly, you have to prove that you can keep up with the business and your colleagues. You can become slightly invisible due to not having as much presence, but I have made the most of my internal profile raising initiatives throughout the firm as I want colleagues to know who I am, what I can do and what I stand for. Social media has done wonders for profile raising and sharing information, meaning that you do not need to have a five day presence in an office anymore just to have a presence or an opinion.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and what motivates you?
My children, I am constantly on the go from the moment I open my eyes. Having three is like running a guest house, so when I get to work usually covered in toothpaste, or Weetabix (my own of course) I am used to multi-tasking and managing difficult people from the word go. They inspire me to keep going and to keep challenging myself, to keep developing as a person and to appreciate the good but to be strong enough to handle the bad. I take these principles to work with me and to make the most of every moment. I know how lucky I am to be able to manage work and have a home life balance. I want to prove that you can succeed as a PA while running a family and working flexibly. I want to push that concept forward and become a role model for others juggling family life and as it so happens, this whole awards process has been a very personal experience for me.
You a really are a champion and a voice of the PA Industry what do you see that others perhaps do not?
I understand how to work with the business. To understand how a strategy or vision can affect an individual such as myself as a PA. If you can work collaboratively with colleagues across the business, outside of your PA role and utilise your experience and knowledge within the wider business, you instantly become valuable. Be different, spot opportunities identify the gaps where you can add value, push and stretch your own boundaries and if something doesn’t work then find another way. When putting yourself through the motions you gage an understanding of where the support roles are developing and where the business wants to develop. That’s where we can help, we are much more than the eyes and the ears of the business. We listen and we see but we also do. We are the practical going on behind the theory, as PAs we operate systems and resources to deliver that service and because of this we have a good insight into what may or may not practically work well. There is real value and opportunity behind that.
The PA Awards industry seems to be booming what advice you would give to a fellow PA who is considering entering for an award?
I would say to research the awards that are most relevant to you and would give you the most recognition within your workplace. Social Media is a great place to start, research the judging panel if you can and read last year’s winners story to see how they utilised the experience. For the nomination remember the context and the purpose. Why you did it and what did it achieve? Was it measurable and how has this affected the business. Investigate your area of expertise. What is happening in the market and how are you reacting to it? Sell what you do and promote your brand. If you did something and the credit was completely down to you then say that, do not be modest. Keep it simple, remember the person reading it has no idea who you are or what you have done. Ask for feedback and do not be shy about wanting to achieve, its inspiring and it’s good to get some fresh eyes to read your work. Have a think about what makes you different. The judges will hear about mentoring, working late etc think about movements in the industry and how you are reacting to them – show them some PA. Power! For some further tips read my latest article coming out in PA Life Friday 25 March 2016 – it offers top tips from the nomination to facing the judging panel in much more detail.
How relevant is networking in our industry?
Networking is the future of our industry. Sharing best practise, seeking reassurance and building connections is vital to hear of the latest trends and opportunities. PA networks are popping up all over the place, encouraging like minded people with similar career aspirations to come together. The development of the Executive Personal Assistants Association has given life to the professionalism sought from PA/EA’s, the movement within the industry means that the role is a Career choice and not something you just fall into. Raising profiles by networking via social media means that you do not have to know someone personally to build a connection. You can network all over the world and its initiatives like this that are supporting the benefits of joining a professional network. Raising profiles via LinkedIn or via Twitter demonstrate your skills, work experience and successes, as well as sharing the latest information is essential. The likelihood of an employer checking social media for your profile is high and ultimately gives you a complete visual platform to create a first impression, so take advantage and smarten up your social media footprint.
What’s next for you?
Well I will want to reflect on winning the Legal PA of the Year title, so any opportunity to speak at the Exeter PA Network or to write up an internal piece for colleagues thinking of applying would be good. I already have my awards article in the wings so I am pleased I have managed to offer tips and advice. Writing is my new found hobby and I particularly enjoy sharing my work life experiences. I want to write another on mentoring and coaching and efficient time management so watch this space, I am now an official contributor to PA Life so who knows! Within my workplace we have a new billing system that is launching in the summer so I imagine I will be busy working with colleagues and assisting with the roll out ensuring its success. However, I would like to invest more time into training and to work on professional support development. In particular, our induction process and to coach and mentor new starters and trainee PAs. I am passionate about learning and development and I am keen to develop further initiatives that motivate and empower PAs to confidently and successfully lead their careers. I would encourage anyone who is seeking that opportunity to go and find it. Apply for an award tell someone how hard you have worked and how passionate you are for the work that you do. I only ever expected to say ‘nominated’, let alone win the award so don’t put any ceilings on what you can achieve, you may surprise yourself!
Thank you Selina!
You can follow Selina on twitter @SelinaYelland1
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