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In 2019 we celebrate the centenary of the landmark moment when women were able to become solicitors for the first time. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was introduced and finally made it possible for women to enter the profession.

To mark this incredibly important milestone, we asked six leading female solicitors to give us their views on how far the industry has come, what they’ve learnt along the way and what it takes to be a woman in law.

Victoria Brackett

The CEO of our Business Legal Services division has a wealth of experience in dispute resolution areas, including banking and insurance litigation.

What is your proudest career moment to date?

“I acted for the Society of Lloyd’s in the defence of a fraud case during the 1990s and 2000s and had to prepare witness evidence with every chairman from 1979 to 1992. They all gave evidence during the six-month trial – which we won – and I received personal thanks from them all for guiding them through a three-year period of uncertainty.”

What does your average day look like?

“Very busy! I get the kids out to school, check which office I’m visiting and then travel. Then it’s meetings and catching up with people, more travel, helping with homework, walking the dogs, dinner and finally bed.”

How do you view developments in diversity within the legal sector?

“I think that society has forced us to change, but there is still plenty of work to do. Saying that, I think that my employer has a healthy attitude and recognises the benefits of diversity at all levels.”

Finally, if you could invite three people to a dinner party, who would they be and why?

“Julie Walters, because she would make me laugh, David Attenborough for a host of great stories. Oh, and Gary Barlow, because I’m in love with him.”

Ros Bever

Ros is our first ever female Head of Family Law and the first woman to be appointed regional managing partner of our Manchester office.

What attracted you to law?

“Everything about it. When I started out in law, I did crime and family work as a paralegal working in a legal aid practice where it was incredibly busy. I found the people, the problems and the pace very exciting and I was given a lot of responsibilities.”

What have been your career highlights?

“Without a shadow of doubt, successful appeals in the Supreme Court are special highlights for me. Not only did I feel that justice was done, but also the experience itself was wonderful.”

What are the challenges still facing women today and how can we overcome them?

“The challenges remain for those who have the desire to have a family as well as to progress at work. While men are more hands-on at home now, there remains a stigma attached to the woman who can’t make events like parents’ evenings - you’re seen as a parent who isn’t interested.

“Ensuring flexibility does not affect career progression is key to tackling this. Changing perceptions is also important, but I know this takes time and we really aren’t there yet.”

Rachelle Mahapatra

Head of Medical Negligence in our Leeds office, Rachelle joined us back in 2002 and has supported a number of clients affected by problems and failings in care.

How do you view developments in diversity during your time in the profession?

“There have been huge changes, as when I started in law there were few women. I am also half-Indian and there were very few people from ethnic backgrounds working in the sector too.

“It has totally changed since and we have a much better balance of people from different walks of life today. Law is much more accessible and, with changes such as firms paying tuition fees and other maintenance costs, we have a real mix of trainee applicants too.”

What does success look like to you?

“Securing a settlement that will provide vital support to a client and help them live the way they want to.”

If you could go back in time 10 years and give yourself one piece of career advice, what would it be?

“Don’t take yourself too seriously!”

Who inspires you?

“My father came to the UK by sea from a small village in India in 1957. He worked hard and always encouraged us to do the same. He is funny, intelligent, kind and a great role model.”

Louise Jenkins

Louise is a Partner in our Sheffield office with more than two decades of experience supporting people affected by a range of serious injuries.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the legal profession since your career started?

“I think all professions have become more pressured, but it is a joy to be able to have a career in a business which recognises the need to deliver excellence in client service at all times and embeds that into our core values.”

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

“Fighting a case at the Court of Appeal to ensure my client could move from a nursing home into his own property. The house was adapted for his needs and he also had access to a care team who could support him and help him get the best from life. It wasn’t the financial settlement that made it a success; it was giving my client his life back and ensuring he had options and choices for his future.”

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Recognise and embrace your strengths and channel those into a career you are really passionate about. Be the best you can be every day.”

Alison Eddy

Alison is a medical negligence expert and the managing partner of our London office, having been there since the day it opened over 20 years ago.

If you could invite three people to a dinner party, who would it be and why?

“Michelle Obama, Emma Thompson and Amal Clooney – all because of their passion, style and sense of social justice.”

How do you view developments in diversity during your time in the profession?

“When I went into law women represented 8% of the profession and now it’s 50%, with an even higher percentage at trainee level. No one spoke about diversity and inclusion. Very few law firms had diversity groups even 15 years ago and we were one of the first to set up a Diversity Board in 2008. We have now shifted focus to intersectionality and recognition that diversity and inclusion needs to embrace LGBT+, BAME, disability and social mobility as well as gender.”

What the best bit of advice you’ve been given?

“The secret to a successful career is doing what you love.”

What is your proudest career moment to date?

“All my air punching moments have been achieving great results for clients who have suffered life changing injuries. A while ago I settled a claim for a young woman who suffered a spinal cord injury when she wasn’t treated for a diabetic coma shortly before giving birth. When we settled her claim I will always remember her mother saying to me ‘What an amazing job you have helping people get their lives back’.”

Leena Savjani

Leena is one of our partners in the London Medical Negligence department and heads up a team specialising in all types of cases.

Describe your average day?

“There is no ‘average’ day and the variety is what I like about the job, that and knowing the work we do makes a real difference to people’s lives. I work closely with all members of my team and my days can vary but include court hearings, client visits, conferences and meetings in the office.”

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the legal profession since your career started?

“The profession has changed in so many ways – law reform, changing client needs/demands, artificial intelligence, technology, the list goes on. The challenge is to remain agile and dynamic to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our clients and thrive as a business.”

How do you view developments in diversity during your time in the profession?

“We are committed to ensuring that we are a diverse and inclusive firm but this is a challenge not just for us but for the legal profession in general.”

Turning Point – Summer 2019

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