Paving the Way: The First Four

As we have mentioned previously on the blog, this year marks 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was introduced. This landmark act proved to be revolutionary, as it provided women with the opportunity to enter the legal profession for the first time. It was Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes and Maud Crofts who took advantage of this incredible opportunity.

Carrie Morrison, at 34 years old, was the first woman to receive acceptance as a solicitor in England and Wales in December 1922. She spent most of her time working as a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ in the East End of London. Furthermore, she also represented prostitutes in court, worked for the Women and Children’s Protection Society and even defended the Becontree Estate protesters in 1932. A pioneering woman who dedicated her career to helping those less fortunate, Carrie set a high bar for other women to follow.

The other three women qualified in January 1923, and also led ground-breaking careers. Mary Pickup worked alongside her husband after getting accepted, having spent the 10 years before that also assisting him. She also worked at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department in Birmingham. Mary was also the only one of the four women who had children to care for whilst studying for her exams. However, it was her determination that allowed her to complete her exams alongside having a family.

Mary Sykes worked for her father’s firm until 1930, when she set up her own legal firm – Mary Sykes and Co. Her father – also a solicitor – died in 1921 so never got to see his only daughter’s achievements. Yet her perseverance and determination allowed her, in 1935, to become the only woman on Huddersfield Town Council and Huddersfield’s only female practising lawyer simultaneously.

Maud Crofts spent a lifetime campaigning for woman’s rights. Even through the First World War she did not give up her fight, instead gaining experience in a solicitor’s office at the same time. Once qualified, Maud and her husband set up their own practice alongside Maud’s brother, Robert Ingram. Maud did not stop work even when she had children, although at the time it was seen as the right thing to do. Maud did not retire until ill-health left her with no other choice. She was 66 years old. Both Maud’s daughter Rosemary and grand-daughter Mary also followed in her footsteps and entered the legal profession. This made them England’s first three generational family of female solicitors.

All four of these women overcame obstacles and fought hard for the right to practice law. They paved the way for women in law now, and in their time they truly changed the legal world for the better.

By Shona Christie

GCU Law Clinic Volunteer, LLB3

Women in Law Wednesday: Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe

For this week’s ‘Women in Law Wednesday’ we have chosen Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe, who we had the pleasure of talking to. We found out all about her journey in the legal profession so far, discussed inequality in law and some inspiring advice was shared.

In her relatively short career Seonaid has achieved an incredible amount. In 2012 she graduated with a 1st class degree in Law and English Literature from the University of Glasgow before studying for an LLM in International Law, which was funded by the Carnegie Cameron Scholarship.  She then worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague before returning to Glasgow to study for the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (graduating first in her year). Seonaid then trained at Maclay, Murray and Spens (now Dentons) and is now a human rights lawyer with The Ethnic Minorities Law Centre in Glasgow. She also works part time as a Research Assistant with the University of Glasgow on their project celebrating the centenary of women in law (https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/law/100years/).

Seonaid is the co-founder of RebLaw Scotland, something that we were especially interested in talking to her about. Throughout the interview, the clear theme was Seonaid’s passion for social justice and using law as a tool to achieve that. Which is exactly what the ‘rebellious lawyering’ project is about. ‘Rebellious lawyering’ is a movement founded by the UCLA academic, Professor Gerald López, which has resulted in the annual Yale RebLaw conference.  Seonaid attended the first RebLaw conference in the UK in London during her traineeship and brought the idea of a similar Scottish conference back up to Glasgow.  She co-founded RebLaw Scotland with Mairi McAllan and Katy MacAskill, women who she trained with at Maclay Murray Spens.  The friendship between the three, Seonaid notes, was one of the highlights of her traineeship.

RebLaw Scotland hosts an annual conference, where they bring together professionals from the third sector, from academia, and practising lawyers, to talk about tackling social problems through radical lawyering. In recent years they have discussed legal responses to homelessness, refugee rights and tackling forced marriage. Seonaid also talks of other plans, such as visiting law schools around Scotland in the new year. We would strongly encourage anyone reading to keep an eye out for upcoming RebLaw Scotland events!

Another interesting part of Seonaid’s journey so far is that she initially did not want to be a practicing solicitor. When she first went into her undergraduate degree, she wanted to be a journalist but realised that she did really enjoy the law, even the ‘boring’ bits! She still however did not opt to do the diploma after graduation and worked for a small charity as a research and policy officer before completing her LLM.  She then started work at the International Criminal Court, which is where she finally decided she wanted to qualify as a lawyer. In The Hague she saw human rights law in practice and decided that she wanted to be able to advocate on behalf of victims of human rights abuses in the judicial system.  This is what then pushed her to go back to Glasgow and undertake the diploma and traineeship.

Despite her achievements, Seonaid was keen to explain that it hasn’t been all plain sailing and she points to many incredible women in her life who have helped her along the way.  She highlighted in particular the support of her mum, who is also a lawyer, which she notes has undeniably placed her in a privileged position. She said “I think every achievement I have ever made is thanks to her” and that, therefore, “women supporting women is such an important principle for me.”

As an example of this, Seonaid told us about feeling like an imposter when she first moved to The Hague.  Helena Kennedy QC, author of ‘Eve Was Framed’ (and more recently ‘Eve Was Shamed’) had long been an inspiration for Seonaid.  Helena Kennedy QC was an alumna of Seonaid’s secondary school, one of the largest comprehensive schools in the UK.  Seonaid explained that she would regularly read ‘Eve Was Framed’ as a source of inspiration when her confidence was failing. Struggling with her confidence when she first moved to The Hague, Seonaid picked up the book and decided to email Helena Kennedy QC to thank her, never expecting a response. She was stunned to receive a reply, filled with encouragement. This small act of kindness demonstrated to Seonaid how powerful it can be for women to support one another.  She goes on to explain that the feeling that she got from the email – that she was not alone – inspires her work with the University of Glasgow ‘100 Voices for 100 Years’ project. “When you read the voices of other women saying isn’t this hard, isn’t this difficult, it makes you realise that it is not just you that feels like that, other women do too.” She explained that the project is a space for talking about gender equality but that there also needs to be wider changes in terms of diversity in the legal profession, particularly in terms of representation of those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Finally, we asked Seonaid the question we ask all our interviewees – what does being a women in law mean to you?

“It means that I am in a privileged position to use my voice to support vulnerable women. I try to do that in my work with migrant women, and I try to do that to support other women in law to achieve what they want to. Being a lawyer is a massive privilege and I think that we should use that little bit of power for good.”

We are very grateful to Seonaid for sitting down with us and talking about her experiences, and we think she may be on the receiving end of emails such as the one she sent to Helena Kennedy QC in the not too distant future.

By Lucy Mackay

‘Women in Law Wednesday’ Week 5: Cheryl Liddell

Our Women in Law Wednesday this week is Cheryl Liddell. Cheryl studied Law at GCU and was also the Student Director of the Law Clinic in her 4thyear. Now that she has completed her diploma and is embarking on her traineeship, we caught up with her so that we could find out where she is now, get some advice for those following the same path as her and ask her opinion on the ‘women in law’ project..

We started by asking her the – rather generic – question, what inspired you to choose law? Cheryl replied with a rather generic (her words) answer, saying that law had always seemed really interesting on TV programmes. She explained that no one in her family had ever been to University so she didn’t have anyone to talk to who had done law, so she decided to go to college for two years first. She admitted that she enjoyed it so much more than she thought she would, so decided to progress into the LLB at GCU. Due to the two years she spent at college, she felt this gave her a helpful start in 1st year as she had covered a lot of the content already. Third year was where it started to get harder for her (as we all know too well).

Talking more about her time at GCU, Cheryl mentioned two of the GCU Law lecturers, Claire McFadzean and Alison Britton. She had worked with Claire through the Law Clinic and found her move from private practice to academia inspiring as a law student, similarly with Alison’s involvement with the Scottish Government, taking seminars and mountain climbing feats.

Moving on to her involvement with the Law Clinic, Cheryl explains that she was involved with the Law Clinic from 1styear. She stressed the importance of this involvement from the start of her degree throughout her interview, and encourages future managers to make sure that they are making 1st year students feel valued and involved. Talking of her achievements in the clinic, Cheryl explains that while she was student director the Law Clinic started to get recognised in the wider community and began to win awards. She attributes this to past managers as well. She also explains that she went to court once when volunteering at the Law Clinic, which as well as being an achievement at the time is also helping her with the litigation side of her traineeship now.

Moving on to where she is now, Cheryl explains that she is doing in house traineeship at Arnold Clark, which she is really enjoying. It is different from traditional traineeships in the sense that you do not get given seats, you are essentially there for any legal need that the company has. Anyone can come round and ask you a question. There is not the same hierarchy that there is in private practice, people from other departments will ask you for the same help whether you are a trainee or not. While she explains this can be a good thing, it can also be challenging as there are not as many people to ask for advice as in private practice. If someone chooses to come to her with her problem, which can be to do with a large range of legal issues, it is her responsibility to handle it.

Discussing her journey into her traineeship, Cheryl explains that she did not specifically choose to go in house. She began at Arnold Clark as a legal advisor, after a couple of months her boss offered her a traineeship. A good point to note for anyone who is feeling stressed about going into the diploma without a traineeship.

We then moved on to chat more about ‘women in law’.  We asked her if she had ever felt disadvantaged as a woman in law, or alternatively, motivated. She explains that, although it is not a direct disadvantage to her, it is strange to go from the degree where classes are 80% female, to having 1 female to 10 males in practice. It is a stark difference and she wonders where everyone went. She definitely finds that being a woman motivates her. She wants to support the other women that she knows in the profession, explaining that, for example, if a job came up she would be more likely to send it to her female friends.

Finally, the question we ask every week, what does being a women in law mean to you? ‘It shows the development of how far women have come in law. So this project is obviously to commemorate the first 100 years of women entering the legal profession. The fact that when you look around the classroom that there can be 90% females, when 100 years ago we wouldn’t even be able to enter the profession. Now we have figures like Lady Hale. It shows society’s progression and their support of females in more extensive ways allowing them to do things that were once perceived as strictly ‘male jobs.’

Thank you to Cheryl for meeting us and getting involved with the project!

 

Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd

Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd QC paved the way for aspiring female lawyers; establishing and securing women’s role within the legal profession. Born in 1900, in Bo’ness, during a time where tending to their house and children was generally the extent of a woman’s responsibilities, it would be hard to imagine that just two decades later the first woman would graduate with an LLB; especially in a society which granted women no political rights. Nevertheless, Margaret, following in the footsteps of her solicitor father, James, wished to pursue a diplomatic career.

Women were not recognised as “people” within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843 but with the introduction of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, women could now work as practicing lawyers and sit as jurors, as well as perform a number of other jobs previously thought only capable by men.

Margaret graduated from the University of Edinburgh, in 1922, with a master’s degree and an LLB. She was called to the Faculty of Advocates in 1923, after training with Mitchell & Baxter WS, becoming the first female lawyer to have the right to plead in the Supreme Court of Scotland. She remained the only female advocate up until 1948. Throughout her career, Margaret continued to break into undiscovered territories, obtaining a considerable amount of ‘firsts’ for women in the history of Britain; becoming not only the first female advocate to appear before the House of Lords, but also the first woman appointed King’s Council in Britain, as well as the first woman to hold the post of Sheriff Principal for Dumfries and Galloway.

Margaret helped shape the future for aspiring female lawyers, giving speeches and lectures and encouraging more and more women to become solicitors as the close work with people would better mould public opinion into one that believed that women were both equally as capable and deserving of the right to study and practice law as their male counterparts.

By Alana Farewell, GCU Law Clinic Volunteer, LLB1

‘Women in Law Wednesday’ Week 4: Patricia Taylor

For this week’s ‘Women in Law Wednesday’, we reached out to former GCU Law student and Operations Manager of the Law Clinic, Patricia Taylor. As part of the project, it is important to us that we are celebrating women at all stages of their journey in the legal profession. It therefore made sense for us to approach Patricia to find out where she is now after leaving GCU and the Law Clinic and ask for her thoughts on Women in Law…

After gaining a First Class Honours in the LLB, Patricia undertook the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow. She is now over halfway through her traineeship with the international firm DWF, currently sitting in the Commercial Litigation department. Alongside this, Patricia is a committee member of the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association and a mentor under the Law Society of Scotland’s Mentoring Scheme (links to both will be at the end of the blog).

As part of the ‘Women in Law’ project we hope to inspire young women who are embarking on their journey into the legal profession. We therefore wanted to ask Patricia if there were any moments throughout her studies or current career that particularly inspired her. Responding to this question, Patricia explains, “If you’d have told me seven years ago, when I was but a nervous first year (carrying around ‘Woolman on Contract’ like it was another limb), that I’d now be a year away from becoming a solicitor in a commercial firm, I’d probably have had to thoroughly google what that would even entail.” She goes on however, ‘A second year lecture on corporate law peaked that interest, and was funnily enough delivered by GCU [Law Clinic’s] ‘Woman in Law’ [two weeks ago], Claire McFadzean. Claire’s practical insights, humorous quips, and indeed honesty, as to the realities of the commercial world, meant that this is a career I’ve been pursuing ever since’. Firstly, I believe that there may not be a Law student that cannot relate to the image of being that scared 1st year. Secondly, Patricia gaining inspiration from our Academic Director (a theme we may see recurring) encapsulates the spirit of the project perfectly. Patricia then went on to praise her family, “my Mum and Gran actively placed no limits on what I could become, regardless of my background or gender.” She qualifies this by pointing out another recurring theme within the project that, “ultimately, it is easier said than done, and our sector has some way to go in embodying that message itself, but I do (and must) believe that we will get there”. Something I am sure we can all agree on.

This leads on to the next question that we put to Patricia, ‘Has there ever been a point in your degree or career where you have felt that being a woman has disadvantaged you’. She gave a very profound answer, “At a recent roundtable discussion, we examined the Law Society of Scotland’s publication, ‘Profile of the Profession’. This uncovered statistics relating to the issue (amongst others) of unconscious bias, which continues to pose a prevalent issue within the legal sphere. Although I do not feel that being a woman has disadvantaged me in my career so far, this is not cause for complacency, for I am one of the lucky ones. Further, I appreciate that I am a “small fish in a big pond”; aware that the age-old glass-ceiling may very well present itself in the face of my progression.” She finishes her answer with a hopeful message, “I do believe, however, that the tide is shifting. Encouragingly, conversations on these issues are increasing, as is awareness and activism for change”. The message that Patricia is sending here is a very important one: just because it isn’t directly affecting you presently, does not mean it is not there or does not affect other people. We hope to continue the conversation that she speaks of through this project.

Finally, as we will ask all of our interviewees in this series, we found out what being a Woman in Law means to Patricia. “Being a trainee solicitor is a privilege in its own right, additionally so, when I consider being a woman in law. I recently attended the Law Society’s Annual Conference, where a speaker remarked that we, as women in law in 2019, are “standing on the shoulders of giants.” It reminded me of the following by Rupi Kaur: “I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me, thinking, what can I do to make this mountain taller, so that the women after me, can see farther?”. And frankly, we, men and women alike, cannot let them down.”

We thank Patricia for her valuable contribution to the project and we hope that reading her insights into the topic and about her career has inspired other LLB students hoping to follow along the same path.

Lucy Mackay, Projects Manager, LLB3

Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association upcoming events: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/scottish-young-lawyers-association-1867524801

Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association website: http://www.syla.co.uk/

Law Society of Scotland Mentoring Scheme: https://www.lawscot.org.uk/members/career-growth/mentoring/

Free Sanitary Products – the Landmark Ruling on Period Poverty

Despite being an existing issue since the beginning of time, it took several months of debating by individuals and members of parliament before the landmark ruling on period poverty was finally considered in the Scottish Parliament in 2017.

The year 2018 marked a remarkable achievement for Scotland in satisfying fundamental women’s rights as it became the first country in the world which granted access to free sanitary products for students. As described by Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell: “Being able to access free sanitary products is fundamental to equality and human dignity”.

However, currently free period products are only supplied under voluntary schemes which is why this year, Labour MSP Monica Lennon officially lodged the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. This Bill aimed to make it a statutory requirement for schools, colleges and universities to provide free access to such sanitary products. How would this impact Scotland? Lennon has supported her reason for bringing this Bill into parliament by stating how this not only gives a chance for Scotland to “put access on a legal footing” but also to potentially lead the rest of the world in introducing similar laws.

In order to maintain current free provision, an investment of £5.5 million was made by the Scottish Government with local authorities receiving an additional £2 million and universities attaining up to £3.5 million in funding.

This proposed Bill aims to tackle the underlying stigma with addressing gender equality and “dignity issues” regardless of people’s income and will bring about many positive effects in Scotland. Sanitary products have been debated to be a “necessity for a very large part of a woman’s life” as opposed to the historic view of it being treated as a luxury product. Therefore, if implemented, the access to free period products becoming statutory will “scourge period poverty” and help reduce the current basic right imbalance.

Women in Law Project Week 3 – Gwyneth Bebb

After studying Law at Oxford and gaining the marks for a first-class honours degree, Gwyneth Bebb was rejected not only from gaining her award but from applying to sit her Barr exams also.  As mentioned previously in our first Women in Law blog, women could not practice as professional lawyers before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 or even be granted the award they had studied for.

It was Gwyneth Bebb that was behind the movement fighting for woman to be officially recognised as legal professionals. In the famous case of Bebb v Law Society she fought for woman to be regarded as “persons” under the Solicitors Act 1843. Being female was classed as a “disability” and she lost on the grounds of precedent with the court ruling that it was the parliaments duty to change the law and not for the courts in this instance.

Despite losing the case and the appeal her actions went on the spark the movement which led to the introduction of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.  She travelled around the country along with other woman raising awareness and spreading their cause, it was her persistence and determination that allowed for woman to become fully qualified and practicing lawyers.

Unfortunately Gwetyth Bebb died from child birth complications whilst studying for her Barr exam so she never got the chance to utilise what she had worked so hard to achieve but 176 years later: woman now make up 48% of all lawyers in the United Kingdom and 47% of the workforce, exceeding the number of male practising lawyers for the first time in 2017.

By Hannah Ritchie

GCU Law Clinic Volunteer, LLB3

Female Lawyers and University – does higher education match reality?

What comes to mind when you think of a law student?

Do you think of a young, handsome, clever man in a fancy suit and tie? Or your best friend who went to law school just because they hated maths and were kind of good at winning arguments?

In fact, for the majority of human history, women never really fit in the picture. Although the symbol of law itself, Lady Justice, is female, women were mostly excluded from the profession until the 20thcentury. Nowadays the situation has actually considerably altered,and it may just be that women outnumber men in some Universities.

For those of you who are law students or lecturers- next time you are in class, look around. What do you see? Chances are, you would notice that the ratio of women to men in the room is significantly leaning towards the former’s side. According to recent statistics, the percentage of women studying the LLB in England and Wales works out overwhelmingly in their favour- 68,8%. This is reflected in a similar way across the pond in America where the statistic is 56,49%. Our own Glasgow Caledonian University does not fall behind in this trend with a staggering 72,4% of law students here being female in the academic year of 2019/2020.

But what does this mean? Have all hurdles for women disappeared with the progress of time? Why are we even doing this project since it is in fact men who appear to be disadvantaged in certain circumstances? The truth is, while there are more women in higher education than ever before, as the career progresses and as you look into different fields the numbers start lowering. Substantially. For example, according to the ‘first100years’ project, as of 2016 women amount to only 125 of the 462 Scottish Advocates, 21 out of the 112 QCs and 9 out of the 31 judges!

Although these are not the only legal professions out there, it is important to recognise the stark difference between how few women pursue them and how many study law in general. Are females looked at differently at interviews or do they simply avoid those positions due to their nature? The reason can be as sinister as women being seen as more unreliable in the long term due to childbirth or not a good fit for the job because of their “inherent femininity”. Or are we, as women, just not confident enough in our ability to tackle such male-dominated fields?

What is clear is that University might not be a good indicator for women in the legal profession. Our research suggests that, even though there are less of them studying the LLB, men have a much higher chance to succeed in higher positions of power than their female counterparts. Through our ‘Women in Law’ project we aim to find out why that is, what hurdles women still face and what can be done to increase equality within the legal sector as a whole.

A UK first: the introduction of the ‘smacking ban’ in Scotland

On the 3rdof October 2019 Scotland became the first country in the UK to make it an offence to smack your child. The ban on all physical punishment was introduced by Green MSP John Finnie and was backed by 84 votes to 29.  Although Scotland may be leading the way in the UK, legislating against smacking children is not a ground-breaking concept. Sweden became the first country to ban smacking back in 1979, and Scotland is now the 58thcountry in the world follow suit. Wales is also on the verge of introducing a ban but there are no current plans for England or Northern Ireland to introduce legislation of this type.

The ban removes the defence of reasonable chastisement. When deciding whether the chastisement was reasonable, the courts would take into account factors such as; the nature of the punishment, its duration and frequency, the age of the child and the effect it had physically and mentally. Now children in Scotland have the same protection from assault as adults.

There are critics of the ban including the Scottish Conservatives and some child psychologists. There has also been a campaign against the ban led by ‘Be Reasonable Scotland’. They argue that the smacking ban is unnecessary, will not help vulnerable children and may lead to ‘traumatic intervention’ in ‘good’ families. In support of the ban, some Paediatricians argue that smacking can cause long-term harm and leads to the development of more aggressive behaviours. The passing of the Act has been hailed as a step forward for child’s rights and shows the change of societies view on physical discipline on children.

It will be interesting to see how the new legislation is utilised in practice and what changes we might see unfolding in the next few years.

By Carys McIntyre, Law Clinic volunteer, LLB3

GCU’s Women in Law Project Continues..

As part of our ongoing ‘Women in Law Wednesday’ series on our social media we chose to put our Academic Director, Claire McFadzean, in the spotlight. As well as being the Academic Director of GCU Law Clinic, Claire is also a Lecturer in Law here at GCU, a Solicitor and a Senior Fellow (HEA). We have chosen Claire this week not only because she is a driving force behind the Women in Law project and the clinic, but also because she provides all of us here at the clinic with guidance and support in pursuing our own careers as women in law. Anyone that has taken a module run by Claire will know how valuable her lessons are. As well as taking you through what you need to pass the module, Claire’s classes always focus on skills that you can take forward into your career. When moving into 3rdand 4thyear and applying for traineeships, it becomes clear how important this is.

We asked Claire about her career journey so far, ‘I am very proud to have qualified as a solicitor and worked for a number of years within the legal profession as a commercial lawyer. In 2006 I decided to alter the trajectory of my career and moved from practice to academia. I now have the privilege of teaching the next generation of lawyers.’

We also asked her what being a ‘woman in law’ means to her, ‘throughout my career I have had the pleasure of working with a number of inspirational women who have provided me with both support and opportunity for development through their mentoring. As a woman in law I think it is important to pay this forward for the next generation of women’.

If you have any suggestions for who should be our next ‘Women in Law Wednesday’, please let us know @gculawclinic on Twitter and Instagram.