Promotion of diversity within the legal profession is one of the key themes to be adopted by Uckfield solicitor Jacqueline Hardaway for her term of office as president of Sussex Law Society.
Jacqui, managing director at Dawson Hart, gave her first speech, since taking on the role, at the society’s annual charity ball last month.
She told 250 guests at The Grand Hotel, Brighton, that 2019 is the centenary of the year women were first allowed to become lawyers.
She said: “Back in 1914 the Court of Appeal case of Bebb v Law Society found that the entire sex of women failed to fall within the definition of ‘persons’ and therefore women could not be admitted to the Law Society.
“But then in 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.”
Jacqui told Uckfield News that the latest figures show that whilst over 60% of solicitors entering the profession are now female, “alarmingly” only 30% of solicitors holding senior positions in law firms are women.
She would like to see that proportion change as part of a wider commitment to diversity within Sussex law firms. But, she says, women have to be confident and must put themselves forward for these top roles.
Jacqui also calls for flexible working and flexibility in training to be part of law firms’ business plans.
Traditionally lawyers do a law degree, followed by the legal practice course which costs in the region of £15,000, and then a lowly-paid two-year training contract with a firm of solicitors.
“That qualification process is not diverse,” said Jacqui. “It restricts who can afford to go through the qualification process.”
She is championing another route, alongside the traditional one, and putting it into practice at Dawson Hart where five members of the 46-strong team are working for the firm while studying for the Chartered Legal Executive exams.
“Being a Legal Executive is the same as being a Solicitor. At the end of the day it is the same qualification and people with it can convert to being a solicitor, if they choose,” said Jacqui.
Jacqui said the route was demanding, a full-time job and a commitment to study in the evenings and at weekends, but it gave an opportunity to people who otherwise might not have been able to come into law, such as those who are older and have had other jobs or those who chose not to study a law degree.
Jacqui considers herself lucky to have followed this route herself.
Her mum encouraged her to go to secretarial college. “She told me: ‘If you can type and be a secretary, you can do anything, and open up a whole new world.’”
She took her mum’s advice and her first job was in a solicitor’s office. After nine months she thought she could do the job of a solicitor and was given the opportunity to do her legal executive exams.
Eight years later she qualified as a solicitor having worked the whole time. As soon as she became a solicitor she was promoted to partnership and then 15 years ago, at the age of 36, joined Dawson Hart as managing partner.
First female and youngest
She was the first female managing partner at Dawson Hart, and the youngest.
Flexible working hours are important to encourage diversity too, said Jacqui. They benefit women and men alike, because a lot of people have caring responsibilities, not just for family but also animals, such as one Dawson Hart member of staff who is a keen horse rider and is able to fit working hours around those needs.
She added: “I believe in the work fitting around individuals. It is all about the people and helps us have a diverse workforce which helps us meet the needs of a diverse range of clients.”
• Dawson Hart covers a range of specialisms from wills and probate, to contentious probate – disputed wills and estates – all areas of litigation, such as contract and boundary disputes, business and employment law, divorce, and property.
The firm also handles serious injury claims and clinical negligence, with Jacqui herself specialising in catastrophic injury cases.