Elizabeth Cruickshank re-qualified as a solicitor after teaching English for ten years. She is now researching the motivations of the early women solicitors. She has a thesis that many women were “directed” to become solicitors by members of their families, particularly by their fathers. As is revealed, familial intentions were not necessarily altruistic but pragmatic. In this interview we find out about the experience of some of the early woman solicitors and the realities of the legal profession in the twentieth century.
Before embarking on her research career Elizabeth was Chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitor (AWS), Editor of Link and the journal of the Association of Women Solicitors and author of All You need to Know about Being a Trainee Solicitor and Women in the Law. We briefly discuss how Women in the Law came about and I ask about her interviews with Brenda Hale and Helena Kennedy.
Women in the Law published by The Law Society in 2003 aims to encourage and support young women who are entering or thinking of entering the law. In the introduction we find out that for some, success for women in the law has been an easy road but for the majority they have had to work extremely hard. The greater part of the women lawyers interviewed are the daughters of professional men, teachers, lawyers or doctors and, in line with Elizabeth’s thesis, parental influence was very noticeable ranging from belief in their daughter’s abilities, more opportunities, financial independence, to a positive choice between medicine and law. Most of the interviewees were mothers, some grandparents. Overall these women have successfully combined work and family life because either their income was necessary or because they loved their work and could not imagine giving it up. While most of the women found a work-life balance and indeed believed that looking after a child should not determine the rest of a woman’s life, nearly all feel that there needs to be some alternation to the way that legal work is organised, with flexible working available to all parents and not just to women. The older members of the group were sympathetic for today’s young women lawyers and feel that life may well be more difficult now than when they were first qualified either because they had lower expectations, intending to leave the profession once they married or had children, or because legal life is harder now and the competition for jobs is more intense.
Elizabeth presents an interesting reflection. Initially, she was surprised how many of the women interviewed expressed pleasure in being asked to consider their pasts; however, on reflection realised that lawyers are often so future minded the past can easily be discounted. As a historian this is a pleasure to hear. By looking back we can see how far women lawyers have come, the ceilings they have broken through and the differences they have made. We can also begin to understand how a traditional and inherently discriminatory system has adapted to the twenty-first century and how, despite progress for women in the law, they still face the same challenges as their predecessors because of their gender.