Q&A with Caitlin McFee, Capacity's client champion

Former lawyer, host of the Law Life Balance podcast, and coach to burned-out associates, Caitlin brings a huge amount of knowledge and experience to the Capacity team. Here, she shares her take on our industry, the experiences that motivate her, and why her inner cynic has been pleasantly surprised by the appetite for real, sustainable change in legal practice.

What first led you to a life in the law?

Well I’ve always been competitive, so ever since my little brother told my mum he wanted to be a ‘banister’ when he grew up, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. But when it came to choosing my university course, a wise friend of my mum’s told me to study something I enjoyed as opposed to law. That was sage advice, but it meant it took me longer to get into law. I eventually completed the GDL and LPC, and began my training contract at Linklaters, 4 years after graduating.

How did your experience of being a lawyer match up with your expectations?

I think I chose a career in law for a few reasons, some better than others. I wasn’t exactly deterred by the prestige and the high salary, but I really wanted an intellectual challenge too. I loved working with highly intelligent people while at Linklaters, and I found some of my work challenging and stimulating.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the unpredictability, and sometimes the monotony of junior tasks. I also didn’t like the lack of control I had over the type of work I did; I really struggled with motivation if I wasn’t interested in the matter.

A combination of factors, including the above, led me to leave the law a year after I qualified. I left with a real affection for our industry and a drive to do what I could to make it even better.

Tell us about Law Life Balance – what did you learn from hosting a successful podcast on life in law?

Where do I start?! The podcast was born from a desire to learn more about the good work people were doing to improve the lives of lawyers across our industry. I honestly learned so much from every guest I interviewed.

Running the podcast brought me a lot of joy - I miss it! Ultimately, it showed me that many people really do care about lawyer wellbeing, and are actively working to drive the necessary change to ensure that life in the law is more sustainable than it has been.

From a personal perspective, Law Life Balance really developed my thinking and my confidence in our ability to support happier, healthier lawyers working in more productive, more profitable firms.

What led you from there to Capacity?

The podcast, funnily enough! Remember Clubhouse, that pandemic craze? Well, I came across William, our CEO, speaking in one of those virtual rooms, and invited him onto the podcast as a guest. I was fascinated by his idea to improve work allocation as a means to address my gripes as a junior, and we began having semi-regular catch-ups for him to talk me through the latest iterations of the product.

The stars aligned one day when William was looking for somebody with a legal background to join the company and I was looking to move back into employment after a year of self-employment coaching burned out lawyers. I joined Capacity a week after that conversation and the rest, as they say, is history!

What do you see as Capacity’s mission?

It’s actually not a simple question to answer, because there are so many ways we can have an impact. In a nutshell, I genuinely see our mission as being very closely aligned with the general theme of my podcast: making the law more sustainable.

Law is an extremely demanding industry, rife with chronic stress and burnout. The pressures from all sides both come from and lead to inefficiencies within law firms, and thus begins a vicious cycle. I see Capacity as helping to interrupt that cycle, and turn it from vicious to virtuous.

How have your views and motivations changed since joining Capacity?

Good question... I’m not really sure that they have, in that I left the industry with a very clear aim of making it a more sustainable place to work, and I feel like that’s what I’m doing here at Capacity. That’s still what drives me every day, I’m just doing it at a larger scale now than I was when I was coaching.

I think I’ve probably become a little less cynical. I used to think that law firms’ commitments to wellbeing objectives were kind of lip-service, but I’m seeing more firms put their money where their mouth is now. I really do believe the industry is evolving.

I still think the partnership is where the biggest mindset shifts need to occur, because the leadership do care, and the majority of associates are keen to be the change they seek. It’s the bit in the middle where I still see the most resistance. That’s something I’d like to help change, by making convincing arguments but also listening to partners concerns.

What are you learning from working closely with law firm leaders?

Well first, I have to say that i've been very pleasantly surprised. Law firm leaders, or at least the majority of those I’ve spoken with, really do care. There will always be some whose attitude is ‘well it was like this in my day, so why should it be any different now?’ But they are in the minority.

The majority of leaders I’ve spoken with want to see more equity in their culture. They want to create environments in which the juniors of today can truly thrive. Of course, they want increased profitability, but I really don’t believe they’d choose that at the expense of their people.

What advice would you give to today’s young lawyers?

This is a tricky one. I think I would firstly echo the advice I was given by my first principal and very good friend: “a job is just a job, your health is more important.” In law firms, it’s very easy to get swept up in the competition and feel like everything else in life comes second to work. But if you fail to set some boundaries and find some balance, you’re setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

That said, and I can’t believe I’m saying this (I sound like my mum), sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do. There will be times that the work is boring, or the hours are long, or you have to cancel a plan you were really excited about, and that unfortunately all comes with the territory.

Try not to care too much what people think of you. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you will inevitably make - after all, if you’re not making any, you’re probably not learning. And ultimately remember that everything is a choice: which one you make is up to you.

Do you think you’ll ever go back to law?

Now that I’ve worked in tech, I don’t think so. I’ve always been a bit of a maverick, and I was always looking for ways to increase efficiency or do things better when I was in law. True, law firms are now really pushing their innovation agenda, but I still don’t think a law firm would be the best environment for me at this point in time.

I really enjoy the autonomy that I have at Capacity, being able to run my own diary and problem-solve in the way I think is best. I suppose I never have been very good at being told what do, as I’m sure my poor mother would attest…

In hindsight, I think I’d have made a far better barrister than a solicitor, but my fear of public speaking was too big when I chose my route. Never say never, but I think I’ve found a much better home in tech.

We'll finish with the two questions we ask everyone. First, what do love most about your job?

I sometimes have to pinch myself that this is what I get paid to do. I feel like here I get to combine all of the things I love most, and I get paid to do it.

As for the job itself, I get to use my knowledge of the legal industry in combination with my passion for helping people, to help law firms solve some of their biggest problems today. I left the law with the aim of improving the industry for all those who come after me, and I really feel like I’m fulfilling that purpose at Capacity.

As for working at Capacity, let’s just say I couldn’t be more grateful. Every single member of our team is, frankly, an utter delight. I have the freedom to run my own schedule, work from any location I choose, and I am actively encouraged to put my health and happiness first every single day. I truly feel that we are living the values we preach, and I learn and grow every single day. #jobgoals

And what would make you love it even more?

Shorter sales cycles in legal? That can be pretty soul-destroying… No, jokes aside, I’m really excited for us to have our first company retreat and spend more time together in person, because while remote-working is great, I have really valued the time spent with team members in person this year.

I’m also looking forward to growing the team and hopefully, more from a selfish perspective than for DEI, adding some more women to the gang…


More from the blog

Chess Board

Algorithmic technology revolutionized chess. It’s about to do the same for work allocation

May 10
The winners in law’s Great Resignation will be firms that focus on innovation, not compensation

The winners in law’s Great Resignation will be firms that focus on innovation, not compensation

Feb 06
William Dougherty

The Legal Technologist speaks with William, Capacity co-founder

From the blog

View All

Chess Board

Algorithmic technology revolutionized chess. It’s about to do the same for work allocation

The case for meaningful mental health interventions in legal practice

The case for meaningful mental health interventions in legal practice

The winners in law’s Great Resignation will be firms that focus on innovation, not compensation

The winners in law’s Great Resignation will be firms that focus on innovation, not compensation