Dorothy Henderson

Dorothy Henderson joined Travers Smith as an associate in the Litigation Department in 1987. She became a partner in 1993, having set up the Employment Department in 1992, which she ran jointly with Andrew Lilley from 2000 to 2009. Dorothy was Head of Graduate Recruitment between 2000 and 2003. She “retired” from the partnership at the end of 2009. This is what happened next…


Having been at Travers Smith for just over 22 years, leaving the partnership in 2009 understandably felt like the end of my legal career. Whilst I described my departure from the firm as “retirement”, the reality has been very different. Instead of one, all-consuming focus, I now have several areas of interest.

It may seem odd to say this after 30 years in the profession, but I never wanted to be a lawyer. My first loves were English literature and the theatre, and my “fantasy job” would have been as a playwright. However, I was encouraged by my school to consider a more vocational degree when I went up to Newnham College, Cambridge. This suggestion also gained the support of my parents and I was persuaded to study Law. However, I was not to be so easily swayed. I promptly joined the ADC, Footlights and the Marlowe Society and stage-managed several theatrical productions during my three years at university. My main claim to fame was working with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie on a production of Love’s Labour's Lost and also with Emma Thompson and Tilda Swinton.

I applied for a place at Law College and then for a training contract on a “just to be safe” basis, as I believed I could always change my mind in due course and do something else. Clearly I lacked the imagination to do anything else (just as well I never became a playwright!), so there I was - a qualified solicitor, an employment law specialist and a partner, and all before I had a chance to draw breath.

As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed my legal career and my time at Travers Smith. Still, I never abandoned my passion for the theatre, which led to an MA in Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance at Birkbeck, University of London, which I obtained in 2013 – writing my dissertation on “Why is King John largely excluded from the modern performance canon of Shakespeare’s history plays?” Anyone interested in the answer(s) should apply separately! Should all this theatrical talk seem frivolous, I should reassure readers that I have also kept up my legal skills.

When I left Travers Smith in 2009, I had already been sitting as a part-time judge in the Employment Tribunal in Central London and have continued to do so. A keen awareness of conflict of interests has ensured that I have not heard any cases involving my former colleagues from the Employment Department - for which I am sure they are eternally grateful.

In 2015 I was also assigned as a part-time judge to the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, which hears appeals from Home Office decisions. Immigration law is notoriously changeable, with new cases and rules emerging on, virtually, a daily basis, so my jurisdiction certainly keeps me intellectually stimulated. Additionally, there is the emotional element of having to decide cases, which could literally be a matter of life and death for asylum seekers and refugees. As they say, with power comes responsibility - and that is something I never forget.

As for my voluntary work, it was a very rewarding and enjoyable experience to sit on the Board of a fund-raising campaign for my old college Newnham, which successfully concluded in 2015, having raised £15 milion over five years. As the Chair of Governors of St Albans High School for Girls I am very proud that a couple of years ago the school received the Sunday Times Award for the Best Independent Secondary School.

Other activities include supporting the Almeida Theatre’s fundraising and other efforts, initially in my capacity as an "ambassador", and now as a trustee sitting on the Board of the Almeida Theatre. I am particularly inspired to work alongside Rare, a specialist graduate diversity recruiter, on assisting candidates from diverse backgrounds with their job applications for City institutions, by developing coaching sessions and mock interviews.

If anyone is thinking about life after Travers Smith I hope this gives you some insight as to what may be waiting for you. One thing I have learnt from all my non-legal activities is that lawyers have many more skills than we may think and that all those things you will have learnt during your time at the firm – especially, taking your work but not yourself too seriously - will stand you in good stead!

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