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.
Ceri Stephens is a Director and Head of Property Dispute Resolution, based in the Yeovil office:
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in the legal industry?
I have always had a keen interest in the law and seeking to use it to correct a wrong situation. My father is also a solicitor and as a young girl I was fascinated in his work and knew from a very young age that the law was my chosen career.
When my friends wanted to be ballet dancers, vets or astronauts, my choice was looked at as perhaps a little dull but I kept on at it and I am very glad I did.
Knowing what you want to achieve keeps you focussed and driven. I have seen too many people struggle to find work that they are happy with and as you spend far too much of your life working, you should try jolly hard to find something you actively like doing.
2. How did you qualify?
I went the traditional route; a 3 year law degree (LLB Hons) in Birmingham followed by a 1 year post graduate degree (Legal Practice Course) in Cardiff. I then started my 2 year training contract with Battens, completing 4 separate seats and qualified in September 2000. I celebrated with a kebab and a bottle of champagne. I felt I deserved both!
3. What do you think you bring to your chosen discipline?
Like most things, it takes time to know what suits you the most and what you can can bring to your discipline. I now head the property dispute resolution team specialising in property and planning matters. I hope I bring a fresh way of resolving any dispute or property problem with a wide property knowledge base.
I qualified into the planning department initially and also worked with the company commercial team. I quickly decided that planning and property law was what interested me the most. I do also like resolving disputes and when I returned to work after having had my two girls (now 9 and 10) I worked in the dispute resolution department. I moved into property dispute resolution, concentrating purely on property issues and I enjoy most tricksy interrelated planning and property matters with some listed buildings, covenants and unregistered land thrown in for good measure. I do like picking my way through such issues. Interest and enthusiasm assists in seeking to understand an often tricky situation.
4. How do you think the legal industry for women has progressed?
Woman are far more prevalent in the law and it is accepted that a woman can choose both to have a family and work.
I have been fortunate in being able to both have children and succeed in my chosen career. There is much more flexibility for working parents now adays and the law has very much assisted with that.
A greater reliance on technology facilitates more flexible working. This has also allowed more working parents to achieve a family and a career where before being physically present all day every day in work was perhaps more necessary.
There remains however, room for improvement. The higher positions within the law and the positions of directors, partners and the judiciary are less populated by women, but that is changing. Hard work and determination is essential however in being able to balance work and family.