Posted On / 03.04.2019

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.

Jill Cochrane is a Director and Head of Residential Property, based in the Sherborne office:

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

As a young teenager I watched quite a lot of episodes of the American show “Quincy MD”, so for a long time I had the sciences & forensic science in particular in my sights. Then at age 16 I chose Government & Politics as an A level course. I grew up in a household where politics was discussed & debated as a natural topic of conversation & was intrigued to understand where laws were made. I loved the course & it seemed natural then to look at Law as a career.

2. How did you qualify?

I followed the very traditional route to becoming a solicitor. A three year law degree at Liverpool University, one year at The College of Law in Guildford to pass the Solicitors Final Examinations & then two years Articles of Clerkship with a firm of Solicitors. The Solicitors Final exams were sat at the end of the course all in one week. Horrible! I remember sending a friend who worked in London down to Waterloo Station one Thursday evening the following October to see if my name was published within the passed section of the published results in the next day’s Times newspaper. I am relieved to say that my friend found my name & I never had to sit an exam like those again.

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

I have always worked in property law - both commercial & residential. By default as much as by choice. I was only a few weeks into my training stint with one of the Commercial Property partners at my first firm when his trusted assistant announced she would be going on maternity leave that year. Within a matter of months I was sat at her desk with her files & learning fast! I love the fast pace & file juggling of getting a matter to completion for a client & the interaction that brings with all the stakeholders involved - if everyone works together a lot can be achieved! I’m also practical & will try to find a solution or a work around to most land law problems if I can convince the Land Registry that I am right! I am always very aware that for clients moving home their whole life is up in the air whilst everything is processed so it’s stressful for them. Excellent communication is key for that. Now that I have been qualified for so long I also love passing on all my “pearls of wisdom” & anecdotes to younger members of staff. Even in property law, which is often seen as a “bit dull” by other lawyers, there are some very funny or weird stories to recall & learn from!

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

My first experience of sexism at work followed my announcement that I was going to have my first child. One of the partners at that particular firm never spoke to me again! That was 1993. I believe that those days, thank goodness, are gone. They have to, not just because it is against the law but also because there are more young women coming into the legal profession now than young men. If lawyers embrace technology & true flexibility in working practices then I hope that women will finally break the ownership/partner status glass ceiling once & for all. Gone are the days of having to be in the office 6 days a week, like I was, with a second secretary who started work at 6 in the evening & was there until 10! The outdated view that to be a great & committed lawyer you had to be in the office all hours should remain in my past & women should finally have the chance to work hard, but flexibly, whilst raising a family if they choose to!