Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke

An idyllic early childhood in Dorset, mucking about in boats, cycling, walking and playing on my friend’s farm, gave me an enduring love for being outdoors and immersed in nature. It is my greatest tonic today, whether getting muddy on the mountain bike, or hiking with friends and my doting cocker spaniel.

My other love is for different cultures and languages, which led me to read languages at Oxford, before going on to study law. Clifford Chance was a natural choice of law firm for me to start my career, being international in outlook and with a fresh and unstuffy culture. Little did I expect to be there 35 years later!

My career at the firm has taken me from M&A lawyer working for private equity clients, a time I remember fondly despite the punishing hours, to heading up learning and development globally and now responsible for coaching and partner development. As a corporate lawyer, I relished the client relationships, the team work and the satisfaction and buzz of drawing together all the various facets of the deal to bring it to completion. It was a very male dominated world at the time but, if I am honest, I never really dwelt on that or felt at any disadvantage. It was a fun time, but I don’t regret deciding to make a shift after my first son was born.

Taking on responsibility for learning and development was certainly a big shift and I didn’t find it comfortable at first moving from corporate law, where all my experience, expertise and reputation lay, to more of a strategic leadership role. But this also turned out to be a rewarding time: championing development amongst the partners, ensuring that our programmes were supporting our business aims and offering all our people access to high quality business skills learning.

Being immersed in the field of development led me naturally to coaching;  I qualified as an executive coach in 2015 and took on the role of head of coaching at Clifford Chance shortly after that. Supporting our people through coaching is often focussed on key career transitions: becoming a new partner, taking on a leadership role and indeed retiring from the firm. It is in this latter context that I was introduced to Nick and Noam. Many of our partners, like me, have spent decades at the firm and moving on can be a daunting prospect. For some their social life, sense of purpose and indeed identity is wrapped up in being a Clifford Chance partner. I was attracted by the range of support which Circle Square offer to those planning their transition, whether it is the Pathfinder session helping them determine their guiding “North Star”, coaching, finding a mentor from within the network, or simply accessing the activities offered.

So what have I learnt as I have changed tack and taken on new roles, albeit within the same firm?

1. While some people have a career plan mapped out, it’s ok to work out what motivates and engages you as you go along.
2. For me, different roles suited me for different stages of my life. But don’t assume that it’s the same for everyone.
3. Transitioning from an experienced corporate partner in a thriving market to a role which was completely new to me was daunting. But I learnt to trust my instincts, value the trust and relationships I had built up within the firm and the knowledge and expertise of my team.
4. I still have to work at challenging my ” inner critic”~ which has a tendency to undervalue my abilities – but I’m getting better at it!

Of all the roles and experiences I have had at Clifford Chance, I count myself most fortunate to have been encouraged to develop my current coaching role within the firm. It is an immense privilege to offer our partners and leaders – who now, more than ever, are facing such pressures from all directions – a non- judgemental space to reflect on  themselves, their needs, their challenges and their motivations. I have a lot to be grateful for.


  1. What 3 words best describe you?  
    Optimistic, disciplined, kind.
  2. If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? 
    Don’t be afraid to fail.
  3. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? 
    It’s the small moments which have made someone else’s life (or day) better in some way.
  4. Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner? 
    My late husband. In case he doesn’t see, I would like to share with him what wonderful young men our boys have become.
  5. How has age strengthened your advantage? 
    Learning to take time to enjoy the small moments and be grateful for each day.
  6. What inspired you to join Circle Square?
    The desire to keep learning and keep meeting new people.

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