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Celebrating 100 years of women practising law

View profile for Jenny Colvin
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On Christmas Eve, 1919, history was made. Helena Normanton became the first woman in England and Wales to join the Inns of Court; the first step towards qualifying as a barrister. This made her the first female lawyer in the history of this country. This followed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 obtaining Royal Assent on 23 December 1919, which amended the previous law that precluded women entering into the legal profession. Jenny Colvin, Commercial Property Partner, follows the path of Helena Normanton and celebrates the legacy she left for females in the legal industry today.

Helena went on to be a leading campaigner for women's rights, was a pioneer for divorce reform, and the first married woman to hold a British passport in her own name, after she declined to take on her husband's surname. She was quite a lady!

This year, the legal profession celebrates 100 years since this momentous occasion, which has paved the way for millions of women across the U.K. to practice as Solicitors, Chartered Legal Executives, Licensed Conveyancers, barristers, magistrates and judges.

What is the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act?

The passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act did not come without a fight. Women had previously been campaigning for over 40 years to be allowed into the profession but had met with constant resistance throughout. A ground-breaking case in 1914 (Bebb v Law Society), where four women took the Law Society to task to demand that they be admitted on the grounds that they were ‘persons’ as required by the Solicitors Act 1843, was rejected by the Judge on the basis that the law must change first. The publicity following this case led to the 1919 Act, and the passing of this Act ensured that for the first time in history, women would be permitted access to the profession, and to receive their degrees from universities on completion of their studies. This law removed all legislation, and therefore all barriers, that had previously prevented women working as lawyers solely on the grounds of their sex.

These days it is difficult to comprehend a law preventing someone from doing a job just because of their sex, and indeed there are numerous laws in place that exist to prevent just that, however, the legal profession still has some way to go to obtain true equality, even 100 years later. Whilst the numbers entering the profession are now predominantly female, those in the top positions within law firms, the judiciary or as QCs are still mostly male and considerable gender pay gaps still exist.

We are proud to have been recognised for promoting gender equality across Warner Goodman LLP; in 2017, we were named Company of the Year at the Hampshire Venus Awards, and in 2018 were awarded the National prize for the same award. Our female employees have a significant role to play, with four out of our five Business Heads being women, nine out of 19 Partners being women and 22 of our 25 Associates being women. Many of our female Partners are full-time or part-time working mothers, and we do not see this as a barrier to promotion but instead recognise the skill set and talent these individuals can bring to the profession.  I will always be grateful for those who came before me to fight the hard fight to allow me to do a job I love.

Jenny Colvin is a Partner within our Commercial Property team, having joined us in April 2016.  She was shortly promoted to an Associate of the firm in 2017 due to her dedication to the firm and her clients, before her promotion to Partner in 2019.  Jenny is a keen supporter of promoting access to the legal profession, and the firm was recently recognised in the CILEx Awards for this achievement. 

In her role, Jenny works with a variety of clients on their property portfolios, specialising in commercial leases, acquisition, secured lending and disposals. To find out more about how Jenny can assist you with your commercial property needs, contact her today on 023 9277 6558 or email jennycolvin@warnergoodman.co.uk.  Alternatively, if you are considering a career in the legal field, you can visit our current vacancies page here.