100 Years of Women in Law
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.
Jacqui Swann is in our Property Dispute Resolution department based in the Yeovil office:
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in the legal industry?
I was editorial assistant in publications for the in-house newspaper at British Gas when a friend of mine introduced me to 3 junior barristers at Keating Chambers. This is a barristers’ chamber based in Middle Temple in London. The barristers had ended up virtually living in Chambers and struggled to manage their business and personal affairs with their very busy practices. They took me on as their PA and I became the link between them and their clerks as well as the outside world! As well as becoming familiar with client files, ordering legal documents and books, I was fortunate to attend arbitrations and also became a regular visitor to the Royal Courts of Justice which were just up the road from Chambers. I was there for 10 years and I loved it. When my third child was born however and we had moved to Somerset from London, it became too difficult to continue to commute, do my job and be a parent.
2. How did you qualify?
I decided to join an agency in Yeovil used by legal firms to get back into this industry. Battens was looking for a part-time temporary secretary for their Property Dispute Resolution team for one week. They offered me a permanent job afterwards and I soon became involved with possession claims and debt recovery. Battens invited me to do a Paralegal course in Debt Recovery following which I became a fee earner in the Dorchester office. At an appraisal, I was asked if I had thought about CILEx; I hadn’t so I looked into it and thought it was a fantastic opportunity to work my way up to becoming a lawyer whilst working. It was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have done. Four and a half years of studying and 12 exams and 4 professional skills courses later (all whilst working as a litigation fee earner and juggling family life), I graduated. In order to become a Fellow of CILEx and Chartered Legal Executive (and therefore entitled to call myself a lawyer), I had to have 3 years of qualifying employment (I was given an exemption of 2 years because of my pre-graduation work). It took 18 months to produce a 500-page portfolio of my client matters no older than 2 years, providing 47 examples demonstrating that I had met the 27 outcomes set down by CILEx Regulation. They accepted it and here I am!
3. What do you think you bring to your chosen discipline?
By the time I qualified, I had some 6 years of litigation and advocacy experience. I am methodical and thorough with research and preparation. I am not happy to go to court unless I have considered as many possible permutations of the case that I can. I have had judges go off in all manner of tangents in the past! I ensure that I keep up to date with the ever-changing legislation in landlord and tenant law. I enjoy relaying my knowledge and talking to others. I speak at seminars, landlords’ forums and to other property bodies. I deal with a wide spectrum of clients and I am patient and sympathetic with all.
4. How do you think the legal industry for women has progressed?
Being one of the oldest industries, progress for women was slow to start but more and more women are entering the legal industry and excelling as lawyers and judges: Lady Hale being the President of the Supreme Court since 2017. Equality in all areas including sex and fairness are very much on the agenda for employers and industries. Law firms do now have women as directors, heads of departments and senior lawyers alongside their male counterparts. There is a better balance in this industry although at the top level there is room for improvement. CILEx has opened the door for many women to become lawyers whilst raising families. 75% of its members are female. CILEx has a very high benchmark for qualifying and a stringent code of conduct for its lawyers which is recognised and respected by the Law Society and law firms. CILEx lawyers are qualified to the same level as solicitors and their reputation is being acknowledged and enhanced with the likes of Battens promoting them as so.