‘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