Partner Cox Yeats Attorneys
Laura Kelly (nee Maitre) is a partner at Cox Yeats Attorneys, a leading boutique commercial law firm. Cox Yeats, which is head-officed in Durban and has recently opened offices in Johannesburg, has been voted the top medium sized law firm in South Africa for the past two years.
Laura’s practice is focused primarily on insurance, commercial and international trade law – with a specific focus on petroleum law. She represents various local and global organisations, including the world’s leading independent petroleum storage provider in respect of its southern African operations.
Laura grew up in Durban and studied at the University of Cape Town where she majored in both law and creative writing. Following the completion of her studies, she joined Cox Yeats in 2014, where she did her articles, became an associate in 2016 and was appointed a partner in 2019 at the age of 27.
In commenting on her journey, Laura says, “In terms of inspiration and how I got to where I am today, it obviously comes down to a lot of hard work, but my family, who are incredibly supportive, and the team that I work with at Cox Yeats have also played a fundamental role. My parents brought me up to believe that I could do anything in life but also to be resilient. As law can be a demanding career, and a tough environment to work in, the self-belief which they instilled in me has certainly helped me progress professionally.
Regarding my team, our model at Cox Yeats is that we work closely and in very small teams. This is aimed at fostering collaboration and ensuring the best outcome for our clients and the model has proven to be incredibly successful. However, this, coupled with the long working hours, means that you spend a large amount of time with your team members. Whilst we have since grown, there were three professionals in our team when I started at Cox Yeats and I continue to work with them today – with one team member being Cox Yeats’s newly appointed Managing Partner, Andrew Clark. Not only are they both exceptionally talented lawyers who practice with complete integrity, they are also fantastic people who I thoroughly enjoy working with. They really have played a fundamental role in where I am today.”
When speaking about practising as a female in law, Laura expressed that it does come with its challenges. “You can be underestimated and not taken seriously based purely on your gender. It’s frustrating and it shouldn’t still be something which happens. However, you just have to stand up for yourself and treat it as an opportunity to prove them wrong,” she explained.
With regards to personal hurdles, Laura remarked that she has had a lot of support in her professional journey and that her main hurdle has been managing stress. “This isn’t a topic that people generally feel comfortable talking about, but I think it is something most people in life have to deal with at one stage or another and I don’t think people should be shy to speak about stress. You just have to ensure that you put yourself in the best possible position to manage it, especially if you work in a challenging job, through exercise, eating healthily and taking time away from work when you can.”
Reflecting on her goals, Laura says that from a short-term perspective, law is an evolving, dynamic sector that is always changing. As such she intends to continue learning in order to both explore new areas of law and to develop her expertise within the practice areas that she enjoys.
From a long-term perspective, Laura enjoys not only dealing with an organisation’s legal requirements, but she has a strong business acumen and provides strategic and operational support for her clients wherever she can. Consequently, she would like to find further ways of using these skills, whilst continuing her legal career.
Laura also attributes these skills to her ability to provide effective legal services. “I am dedicated to providing great service to my clients and I have really found that I can do this best by getting a holistic view of the business I am assisting, especially where I am helping an organisation with its commercial work or engaging with its stakeholders. I really strive to ensure that the services I’m providing to them are given in such a way that they can operate as effectively as possible.”
When speaking further about her personal attributes and the way in which she assists her clients, Laura commented on her strong interpersonal skills and her commitment to her job. “Our work doesn’t just take place in our office behind our desks, you are required to step in and act as your client’s representative during negotiations or general engagements. I am very comfortable with public speaking and like to believe that I am good at fostering relationships with people.
However, what really is key for your client is the ability to be readily available and responsive. We live in an extremely fast-paced world and clients expect no less when it comes to service delivery. It’s also important to identify those times when your client needs you to be available 24/7. While maintaining balance is extremely important, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when this level of effort is required of you.”
Laura absolutely loves dogs, and her dream would be to start a dog sanctuary one day. “I was actually going to become a vet, but unfortunately my allergies towards certain animals meant that this wasn’t practical and so I chose law,” she commented.
In conclusion, the advice that Laura would give to a young woman following in her path, is to not take herself too seriously, to remember what is important in life and to strive to maintain balance. “Work hard but take the time to do the things that you love.”