10 September 2019

2019 marks 100 years since women were able to qualify as solicitors. In 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act came into force and so paved the way for women to be admitted into the legal profession.

To celebrate this centenary and to remember and pay homage to the pioneering women of the legal industry, Battens are interviewing some of our very own female lawyers about their careers.

Deborah Escott-Watson is a Solicitor in our Private Client department based in the Sherborne office:

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in the legal industry?

I have always enjoyed a good argument! I also enjoy research immensely and it seemed to me that the two went hand in hand.

2. How did you qualify?

I am a dual qualified solicitor in South Africa and England and Wales. I completed five years of study earning a BA, majoring in History and Legal Studies and then a post graduate LLB degree and then after a two year stint working in financial services, entered into Articles of Clerkship. After successful completion of two years of articles I was admitted as an Attorney of the High Court of South Africa in 2001. In South Africa, this a proper Court Application moved by a Barrister and you have to swear an oath in court! My husband and I then relocated to the UK. The Solicitors Regulation Authority allows attorneys from various countries, South Africa being one, to complete the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme. This entailed (then) providing evidence of good standing (character and suitability) from the South African Law Society and completing a series of written tests. On passing these you are admitted to the roll of Solicitors in England and Wales without having to do another training contract. I was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2003.

3. What do you think you bring to your chosen discipline?

Even though I have always, since qualification, worked in Private Client, I have worked both in-house at a bank and a financial services company and in practice as a solicitor both here in the UK and in South Africa. I therefore bring a wide experience base. I am often dealing with clients and their family going through very difficult and emotional times and being understanding and sympathetic is very important to make an overwhelming situation easier.

4. How do you think the legal industry for women has progressed?

Law was a male dominated profession, and even now in a lot of law firms most of the older partners and directors are male. However it is great to see that so many younger solicitors are female. The profession is fully inclusive now as it is accepted now that allowing flexibility in working patterns – both with regards to working part time or from home – encourages gender diversity in the profession, but also the attraction and retention of the best talent.