Frances Murphy talks about becoming a lawyer, doing deals and family.

Published 27th May 2016

This week we heard the sad news that Frances Murphy – the former corporate head at Slaughter and May – has died after a long illness.

The firm’s senior partner Steve Cooke said: This is a very sad day. The news was received with great sorrow by everyone here. Frances was one of the most outstanding corporate lawyers in the City and made an exceptional contribution to the firm. She held the respect of the business community and had a huge reputation in the global legal market. We will really miss her. Our thoughts are with her family.”

Frances Murphy arrived at Slaughter and May in 1981, and was made partner in 1990. She went on to be corporate head in 2008.

The First 100 Years interviewed Frances in late 2015. The video can be found here. Always a champion of women in law, but equally always focusing on talent not gender, she spoke in detail about her incredible legal career in the heart of the City, going right back to student days in Sheffield.

As we mourn the death of one of Britain’s finest corporate lawyers, here are a few extracts that interview where Frances talks about becoming a lawyer, doing deals and family.

I decided to be a lawyer before I filled in my UCCA form. Part of that was wanting to have a profession, and wanting to be self-sufficient. If you looked at what was available to women, law seemed a good opportunity. So I filled in my UCCA form, and I had an offer from Sheffield, and it was far enough away from home, and I thought it would be fun! I met two of my closest friends on that first day, and they are still to this day some of my closest friends.
I knew I wanted to work in the City. I thought it sounded interesting, but I knew nothing about the City. I can remember turning up here in the very early days, and somebody talking to me about a bond issue, and me saying ‘what’s a bond issue?’ I had no background in business.
I’ve been very lucky at Slaughter and May, because we don’t narrow down people into little boxes. You can do a wide range of things. That makes it interesting, and makes you keep thinking, and learning, and that’s good for everybody. I have done a lot of deals over the years. None of them are solo events, they’re all done with teams of people, and you couldn’t do them by yourself, and anyone who thinks they could is foolish in my view. But two sets of deals I suppose really stand out.
The deals I did with the Williams Holdings, which were acquisition and disposal, after acquisition and disposal, and almost never ending for about fifteen years … they were fantastic experiences and all different. Some large, some small, some public, some private. So that whole series of deals with that team, it was a very close knit team there, was great, and I learnt a lot about business doing those deals, and how to negotiate which is a very important skill.
The other very important client to me since the Eighties, still is a client today, is Santander Abbey National as they were. I was lucky enough to work on the team that demutualised Abbey, and that was the first building society ever to go through the demutualising process. And of course there was no road map as to how to do it. We made it up as went along really – so that was a really interesting deal.
I like deals, I like solving a problem, I like, you know, reaching a negotiation on something. I like everyone to walk away feeling they’ve got a good deal at the end of the day. That’s also a part of the fun. There’s a huge sense of relief when the deal’s actually signed or closed, you know, you actually got it through.”
I think there is a lot of media talk about gender that is sometimes overdone. Not just in the law. I do think there’s quite a lot of froth. We’d obviously like to keep more women, because they’re fifty percent of our talent pool, we invest a lot of money in them when they come and train with us, and so if you were looking at it purely as a business decision, it just doesn’t make sense to say ‘well, we can afford to wave goodbye to the women’. So my question is how do you fix the system to make it work better for men and women who actually all want to have a real life as well as a professional life.
I think my life became much easier when I got married, because I had someone who was really supportive. He never saw childcare as my job, it was our job, and never saw my job as my job. If I needed him to come along to an event, or talk to a client, he’s been fantastic so choosing the right person to marry or settle down with is one of life’s most important decisions. Much more so than becoming a partner or anything else, you know.