How to earn a living AND make a difference

Posted on: November 7, 2014

This month I’m launching a series of interviews with women who inspire me. They are making business a force for good in the world and thriving commercially, demonstrating that it is possible to “do well by doing good”.

My first heroine is clean energy lawyer Sandy Abrahams who, at the age of 32, has established her own niche legal practice. She is helping countries across the Middle East and Africa develop clean energy infrastructures and move away from fossil fuels.

Sandy comes from an unusual background.  Growing up on the Scottish Hebridean island of Colonsay (population 120), her family make their living from bee keeping and oyster catching.  She studied law at Cambridge and then joined City law firm Nabarros where she specialized in energy law.  This year she and two colleagues set up a niche legal practice within an innovative “chambers” model specialising in clean energy projects.  Her work takes her to countries such as Jordan and Kenya, plus she advises community groups in the UK on how to create their own clean energy projects and lobbies for changes in the law to make this easier.  Here’s what she has to say:

How’s business? 

Currently business is very good! There are no shortage of clean energy projects waiting to get off the ground in the UK and abroad. One of the major benefits of working outside of the traditional City law firm model is that we can work flexibly and charge appropriately according to the project. This means I can support projects that do both environmental and social good, which normally would not be able to afford a City lawyer and earn a good living at the same time.

You could have followed a conventional career path to partnership in a global law firm. What was the defining event that caused you to step off that path and follow “the road less travelled”? 

My upbringing. From a very young age I wanted to work to protect the environment. At first it was through art, then through environmental economics and finally I hit on law. As a clean energy lawyer I am helping to create a cleaner and more energy resilient society. By setting up a niche practice I have the freedom to work on the projects that I am interested in and which create the biggest positive impact.

What is your vision for the future?   

imgres-1For myself it’s living a more sustainable life, growing my own food and working on environmental projects from my kitchen table.

For my business, I hope that the model will expand and that other lawyers see it’s possible to take on more satisfying projects that are socially and environmentally beneficial and bring far greater rewards than just a pay packet.

For society?  That enough people “wake up” to the need to change our values so we can rapidly transition to a society where we respect and understand the intrinsic (rather than monetary) value of the natural world and focus on collaboration rather than competition.

What sustains you when you go through challenging times?

Green spaces. The Hebrides. Being able to breathe clean air and see an open sky.

What advice would you give to any woman lawyer who wants to make a difference?

Identify your goal and stick at it! Don’t let those who doubt what you are about sway you from your path. When I decided to become an environmental lawyer I applied to many different law firms for a training contract. In interviews, I would explain why I wanted to be a lawyer – to make a difference, to work on projects that would be beneficial and specifically those that would tackle climate change. A problem, I explained, that would end up affecting just about every client of that law firm. Many interviewing me didn’t “get it”. In fact, one queried why I wasn’t applying to work for Greenpeace. However, I was undeterred and stayed true to my vision. It worked in the end!

Who would you like to nominate as your heroine? Let me know on

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