One hundred years on from the act of parliament that allowed women to enter the legal profession, Harrison Drury profile some of their women in law about what the anniversary means to them.
In the first instalment, they profile Rebecca Patience, a family solicitor in their Lancaster office.
How did you overcome obstacles in the profession to get to where you are today?
Prior to obtaining my training contract with Harrison Drury, I worked as a paralegal in the area of mental health law at another local law firm. The time spent working as a paralegal gave me great insight into the legal profession and the chance to develop key skills.
Gaining this valuable experience helped me to secure my position as a trainee solicitor. For young women struggling to get a training contract, it is important to explore any opportunities available that may assist in building your professional experience.
What single piece of advice do you offer woman entering the law profession?
Be true to your beliefs and be confident in your own ability. I think it’s important to recognise your strengths and make these work to your advantage within a professional environment.
I have a particular passion for helping those less fortunate and supporting the local community. Along with a team of like-minded colleagues, I helped to form Harrison Drury’s Corporate Social Responsibility Team. We promote charitable causes across the firm and encourage colleagues to participate in voluntary activities.
We’ve also introduced initiatives to help reduce the firm’s environmental impact. I am proud to be part of a firm that promotes such a positive and responsible outlook.
I encourage women entering the profession to let their personalities and individual passions be part of their working life too.
Where have you found support during particularly challenging times?
Working in the legal profession can be challenging at times, especially practicing in an emotive area such as family law. It is important to have a network to support you.
I am lucky to be part of a very compassionate team. When I have work-related challenges there is always someone in the team willing to discuss matters with me, offer advice and be supportive. In addition to my colleagues, my friends and family have always been there for me.
What do you think is the most defining moment for women in law over the last 100 years?
Historically, women were seen and treated as being the chattels of their husbands. Changes in legislation mean that women are now afforded protection following separation. One of the key pieces of legislation that I use, on a daily basis, is the Matrimonial Causes Act.
Introduced in 1937, this was the first piece of legislation in the UK that allowed women to petition for divorce on the same terms as men. In 1973 this Act was updated, to allow petitions to be issued on grounds of unreasonable behaviour, making divorce more accessible to women.
Judges have advanced the position further, affording financial protection for women after divorce. The case of White v White in 2000 confirmed that the ‘yardstick of equality’ should be used when dividing assets on divorce.
This approach was adopted ‘to ensure the absence of discrimination’ between the spouse who earned the money and the spouse who raised the family.
Moving on from this centenary celebration, what are your plans for 2020?
I relocated to our Lancaster office in 2019, to offer family law services in the north of the region. Taking on this role has been a great opportunity to develop new relationships within the community.
In 2020 I am looking forward to engaging further with the local community in Lancaster to develop longstanding professional relationships. Along with my colleagues in Lancaster, we hope to take part in local charitable events and volunteer activities next year.