Jo Davis is a Partner at the Buckinghamshire and London law firm B P Collins, heading up the Employment Practice team, and is recognised as a top lawyer in her field by both the Chambers and Legal 500 Directories. Jo is known for her warmth and humour, whilst fighting ‘like a tiger’ for her clients, and it was a pleasure to meet her for tea at Pinewood Studios, where we enjoyed a chat about employment law, the elusive work-life balance – and the perils of the alpaca mating season!
Welcome to Pinewood Jo! Tell me, did you aspire to be a lawyer from a young age?
I had no idea at school – originally I wanted to be a teacher, but then all my friends wanted to as well, so I said I won’t do that then! My eldest brother did a law degree and he’d come home from university talking about some of the cases he’d studied and I thought I quite fancy that. He was training as a barrister and I didn’t want to compete, so I did the solicitor thing and did a law degree at Manchester (Metropolitan Uni as it is now), which I really enjoyed. Then I went to Guildford Law College, which covered all of the core subjects – conveyancing, probate, the lot.
And what led you to specialise in employment law?
My first job was in a small firm next to The High Court in The Strand – which gave great exposure to disputes. I worked on a high-profile case of a top-level female TV producer, whose boss (also female) really picked on her and ultimately unfairly dismissed her. It was widely reported on, and this case whetted my appetite – ever since, I have loved working in employment law. I was lucky, I fell into something I loved from the start.
What personality traits would you say suit a career in this area – and did you show these traits from an early age?
Law in general, but particularly employment law, is all about problem solving – people want a result and you’ve got to get them there. I always liked problem solving – I like taking facts and working out the best way forward. I was the kid that wanted to do the Rubik’s cube – plus I like people! I come from a family of journalists, so communication is something that runs in the blood; and it’s satisfying when you get to the end of a case and have a positive result – I like to win! I acted for one client, who had given evidence at a colleague’s discrimination hearing (speaking in support of the employee, so against her employer); she returned to the office on the Monday, and her boss sacked her by text on the Tuesday! She was single, going through IVF at the time and had no savings as a result., so she ended up renting her house through Airbnb. The other side wouldn’t negotiate at all – but in the end we got her a good and fair settlement. Now she’s back on her feet and doing really well. Cases like that that stick with you; you’re championing the underdog and I love that.
And is employment law a particularly male or female-led area of law?
There are probably more women in employment law than men – generally there are more women coming into the legal profession than men now; but still fewer getting to the top, although increasingly now we have more women at the top in B P Collins. I have three kids, and a good work-life balance and flexible working is one of the things that B P Collins supports.
What would you say are the main challenges of the role?
The hardest point is probably. adapting to the constant changes; there is a lot of referring to text books and online resources, as employment law is very nuanced and technical. Other than that, it’s getting the work-life balance right – I’m always rushing; I have friends who somehow seem to be a lot more laid back than I am!
I disagree; it sounds like you have a great balance – and a pretty full life outside of work!
Well, I get to take my kids to school in the morning, and I’m able to see school plays and so on – I’m really glad about that, as you can’t get those years back. My husband is based at home and looks after the kids, so I’m lucky – it’s much harder if you’re both working – it’s all about balancing.
And back at work, what are the most common issues you confront in your cases?
I’d say whistle blowing and discrimination – I was involved in one of the biggest age discrimination cases of recent years, where a Partner in a law firm was kicked out at 65. That went all the way to the Supreme Court – it was fascinating to see it through.
Gender discrimination does occur, but it’s rarer than it used to be – people are more alert to it and generally see the pitfalls. That’s not to say it doesn’t still happen , but it happens inadvertently, such as in cases of indirect discrimination, when an employer applies a rule to everyone, but it impacts a certain group or gender more. And on payment issues, men are still more pushy for pay-rises than women, who can be more self-deprecating.
Sorry to bring up the B-word, but how is employment law being affected by the current climate?
With Brexit, it’s difficult to tell – there’s more caution, probably fewer acquisitions, as everyone is waiting to see what happens. We have an immigration team, who are doing a lot of training as the government is becoming clearer on what changes they are planning. Overall we are busier than ever, getting good quality work across London and the South East, particularly since opening our new office by St Pauls. I’ve got a really good team around me, so I’m lucky.
What advice would you give to law students today?
Generally I’d say to do a job you really love, as you’re going to be doing it for a lot of hours. If you’re doing law, find the area that really interests you, and take your time to find what makes you tick – if you like attention to detail, the corporate or property side might appeal; if you like fighting a battle and winning, then maybe litigation is for you; just don’t jump too quickly, as once you’re on one track it’s not so easy to retrain.
And what advice would you give to your younger self starting out?
I don’t regret anything I’ve done – I’ve liked all the firms I’ve worked in. At B P Collins I like working with different teams and having colleagues to talk though issues; you find you talk yourself into the right solution. It’s a really friendly firm, we’re all about the long-term relationships with our clients, and we like to have a laugh too. I don’t think I’d change very much really.
And back to that work-life balance, what do you do outside of work? I hear you have an alpaca farm!
Yes – we have 12 alpacas, with two on the way, so we’re building up a herd. They all have different characters – we had one that went berserk; he’d be really friendly and then spit at you – and alpacas generally don’t spit, that’s llamas – alpacas are much cuter! And then there’s Donna, she’s very skittish, particularly around bald men for some reason! The female alpacas are worth a lot more because they breed – but then you do get the odd exceptionally good male, the stud, the Sean Connery of alpacas – and they’re worth a fortune. And mating them is an interesting experience! I let the experts sort that out for me, but once it’s done they have a spit-off – three meetings, a week apart – and if the female spits at the male it means she’s pregnant! So that takes up quite a few weekends! We plan to sell them – but I can’t quite bring myself to yet, as we’re too attached! We also have 20 chickens, 8 ducks, two lambs, a dog, a cat, a rabbit and two dwarf hamsters – and we’ve just put up a yurt – it is basically The Good Life!
Chances are, CBD oil is already on your radar. There has been a huge buzz about it recently, due to its reported benefits – health journalism has been awash with stories of this potential remedy for a wide range of ailments, including anxiety, insomnia, skin conditions, epilepsy and arthritis. But what is the story behind the hype – and is it all too good to be true?
The first thing to clarify is there is a huge difference between CBD oil and medicinal cannabis. CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant – it has attracted interest as it seems to have a wide range of therapeutic properties. One of the other compounds in the cannabis plant, prevalent in the marijuana variety, is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – unlike CBD, THC is psychoactive, and this is what gives users the famous cannabis ‘high’.
CBD oil is now in mainstream use – Holland & Barratt were the first UK high street retailer to stock it, with sales doubling in 12 months, and the health company Naturopathica has recently launched the first CBD lozenges. There are also increasing numbers of UK cafés serving up coffee and snacks containing CBD, to help customers combat anxiety and stress!
A recently retired colleague of ours, a lady in her mid- seventies who is caring for her husband who is suffering from dementia, has noticed a marked difference in his anxiety levels since she has been including CBD oil in his diet.
Cannabis is still illegal for recreational use in the UK, but the medical use of cannabis was legalised in November 2018. However, this is only when prescribed by a registered specialist doctor, and notably the current guidelines do not recommend the use of medicinal cannabis oil – which is ironic, given that the UK is home to GW Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest producers of medical cannabis, and the company behind the cannabis-derived products Sativex and Epidiolex.
This has frustrated many, including the parents of seven-year-old Alfie Dingley, an epileptic boy from Warwickshire who suffered up to 30 seizures a day due to a rare genetic condition. He hit the headlines in 2017 when it emerged his family had moved to Holland, where medicinal cannabis oil was legal – with treatment, Alfie’s seizures reduced to just one a month! The family returned to the UK and petitioned the government to make it legal in the UK. Since the change to UK law last November, Alfie now has regular prescriptions for his condition, but the family subsequently launched another petition to encourage doctors to “prescribe full extract oil without fear”, as the guidelines mean that few doctors are actually prescribing it.
While most of the compounds in cannabis are ‘controlled substances’ under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, CBD is not. It is currently illegal in the UK to have products with a THC level of over 0.2%, but by using cannabis plants with lower than threshold levels of THC, and high levels of CBD, manufacturers are legally able to sell products – although these are not officially authorised as medicines, so manufacturers cannot make any medical claims on the packaging. Despite this, many people swear by their therapeutic qualities anecdotally.
Any internet search will lead you to an abundance of anecdotal material about CBD. It is widely known to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it keeps your body in a state of equilibrium, making it useful in treating medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain. It is easy to take – there are e-liquids for vaping, sprays for under the tongue, CBD capsules and CBD balms to apply to the skin.
Oxford University is carrying out a £10 million research programme into the medical use of marijuana, so hopefully it won’t be long before science and legislation catch up with what the public already seems to know.
Meanwhile the popularity of CBD oil grows daily, and if the coffee and cake at your local café includes this magical ingredient to reduce stress and anxiety, might you be tempted…?
Josie Sinnadurai is an extraordinary woman. She has carved out a successful career as a flamenco dancer, touring all over the world and starring in a Hollywood movie (Woody Harrelson’s Lost in London). She has a core of steel and exudes calm determination – on her bedroom door for years she has had the Emily Brontë poem “No Coward Soul is Mine”. But recently her courage and stoicism have been tested to the limit.
In December 2018, just before her 25th birthday, Josie noticed that she was waking up to clumps of hair on her pillow, and that more hair was falling out when she washed or brushed it. She was working in Seville and returned to her home town of Brecon to consult her GP, who told her that it was probably temporary.
However back in Seville, despite using treatments prescribed by a local dermatologist, in the hope that her hair would grow back, the hair loss continued. In her stoic way, Josie remained calm and carried on working – but soon noticed that she was losing her facial and body hair too. She was diagnosed at this point with sudden-onset alopecia universalis, an auto-immune condition resulting in complete loss of all facial, head and body hair.
Not much is known about alopecia, and there is currently no definitive treatment, so sufferers of the condition are faced with the probability of their hair never growing back. Gail Porter, Matt Lucas and Andre Agassi have all famously had to deal with sudden-onset hair loss, and last summer Jada Pinkett Smith also went public with her stress-related alopecia. One can only imagine the stress of hair loss – but to couple that with being in the public eye can only add more pressure to an already sensitive situation.
So hats off to Josie’s reaction! Naturally at first she was in shock. She always had a wonderful head of hair – thick, dark and glossy – and for any woman to lose it all suddenly is a huge thing to process, especially with the speed of the onset, when there is little time to come to terms with it. Emotions of distress, shock and mourning are of course natural. But Josie took control of her situation and put together a strategy to manage what was happening.
“After a couple of days processing the diagnosis, I calmed down and told myself that this wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen” she said. “I wasn’t in pain and it wasn’t like losing my hair was going to kill me. At the end of the day, this was only my appearance.”
She decided to document her hair loss, photographing her scalp at each stage. As time went on, she found the inner strength to turn something she couldn’t control on its head – and went far beyond turning lemons into lemonade! She organised a farewell photoshoot of her remaining hair, and then threw a party with friends and family where she shaved her head.
“I even baked a cake. It was my way of saying goodbye to my hair,” Josie said. “The evening was very emotional but also a celebration.”
Next, to boost her confidence and embrace her new look, she had a beautiful henna ‘crown’ tattoo, which looks amazing – feminine and powerful – with something of the Warrior Queen about it! As Josie explained:
“Being proactive about my hair loss gave me the confidence to move forward with my life. Instead of feeling down and sad, I felt excited about the future.”
Josie now wants to spread the word about alopecia universalis, and hopefully to inspire others who are learning to cope with its sudden arrival.
There are of course still challenges – in London Josie fits in with her new look, however in Seville, where she is currently based, some people still stare. But she is fine with that – “I think they’re more embarrassed than I am” – and she has a great friendship group who have supported her throughout. Being a flamenco dancer, Josie currently wears a wig when performing, as the genre traditionally requires the classic Spanish look, which includes thick long hair! But moving forward she is considering dancing without a wig, using this as “an opportunity to question the traditional binary flamenco aesthetic look”, so watch this space! And in her daily life, she is embracing and rocking her new look, with funky headscarves, great make-up and jewellery.
‘Proud’ doesn’t begin to cover what her family and friends feel about how Josie has responded to this traumatic turn of events. She is not only an incredibly talented young woman, but also an inspiring example of how it’s not the hand that life deals you, but the way you play your cards that counts – in Josie’s case, with strength, positivity and panache.
Watch the video of Josie shaving her head.
Josie will be on tour from 12th – 24th April 2019 in London and Wales: