International Women’s Day is held to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements throughout history and across nations and is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke with two of our distinguished lawyers, Gina Fairfax and Eileen Pembridge, to learn more about their early career and experience of working in the legal sector along with the lessons they have learned and achievements they are most proud of.
United Nations Day for Women’s Rights
What was your background prior to becoming a lawyer?
I read Law at King’s London, my father (an engineer) had planned that I should go in for Patent Law. I chose instead to join the Delta Metal Company as a graduate trainee in production engineering.
Tell us about when and why the law became your ambition?
In the 1980’s our family engineering firm was being wiped out by the economic climate. We needed another income for the family. There being no future in relying on the same product base (engineering), I lectured at a Further Education College for two years for the fees for Law School, attended Wolverhampton Poly for the year and qualified as a solicitor.
Then I had to get articles. I was (a) old (b) female and (c) with children. There was one interview I remember where the principal stated that he had just wanted to see what I was like as he had no intention of taking on a female articled clerk. I am forever grateful to the late Ray Zacaroli, then senior partner of Gately Wareing, that he offered me articles.
What led you to focus on tax aspects of the law (Private Client)?
For every step a client takes, from marriage, making a will, running a business, buying or selling any sort of property – there is a tax implication. What better field in which to practise There is always work, and the puzzles are fun!
What were your early experiences of training in the legal sector?
The articled clerk was a lower form of animal life. Competence in office cleaning, tea making and rummaging around was expected. Once I was sent to attend the County Court in Walsall, and given the exact bus fare for ‘off-peak’ travel. Unfortunately the County Court, (as ever) ran late and I had to return at ‘peak’ time. Very kindly the bus conductor connived at my underpayment. It was about that time that the partnership declared that no articled clerk should attend alone for service of papers and the like. The articled clerk from a neighbouring practise had been shot.
What have been your most favourite/important cases?
When I obtained a complete withdrawal of a very substantial claim for income tax from the estate of a deceased international oil man, because HMRC had lost all the papers.
What inequality and discrimination have you experienced and observed in your career?
From the client stating that “you charge a lot for a woman” to the assumption that the female was there to pick up the coats and arrange for the tea, not to run the meeting. It is very noticeable that returning to work in London from 1997, that these basic assumptions have changed out of all recognition.
How does the law serve women?
It is relatively recently that we have recognised that the Law, as such, (blind and impartial as justice is supposed to be) does not in fact serve women as men and now we are beginning to notice and redress the position so that a woman is not at a disadvantage, as in Employment Law and pregnancy or where an offence of violence might have occurred in a situation of long term oppression.
How do you make being a mother and lawyer work, balancing work and family?
Badly; ‘Mother’s place is in the wrong’!
How would you describe your career so far overall and what are you most proud of?
Kept it going; keep it going ; enjoy the puzzles
What advice would you give your colleagues who are just starting out in their legal careers?
Keep on keeping on; enjoy it.
Gina is a Consultant Solicitor and Head of Tax at Bishop & Sewell working in our Private Client team. You can view her profile here …