Following on the back of International Women’s Day held in March and her appointment as National Chair of Resolution in April, we feature a Q&A interview with Margaret Heathcote, a Consultant Solicitor in our Family & Divorce team, to learn more about her early legal career, the lessons she has learned and the achievements she is most proud of.
What was your background prior to becoming a lawyer?
Margaret – After university I joined the Lord Chancellors’ Department (as it then was) as a graduate entrant civil servant, and worked at the Principal Registry of the Family Division for several years as a District Judge’s clerk. I subsequently worked as the manager of a small firm of solicitors in Gray’s Inn before joining John Cornwell (the founder of Resolution, then the Solicitors’ Family Law Association) as his office manager and assistant before subsequently training as a lawyer under his sponsorship.
If you had one, who was your ‘female’ or ‘women in law’ role model, and why?
Margaret – I’m not sure who it was in the past, but I’m pretty sure that it is presently Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court with whom I had the honour to share a platform at the Resolution National Conference in Bristol in April of this year. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be impressed by her humility, her humour, and the fact that she has a mind like a steel trap!
What led you to focus on human aspects of the law (Family)?
Margaret – From the outset at the Principal Registry of the Family Division I found the work in family law fascinating, covering as it does every aspect of people’s lives, and ranging far more widely than simply dealing with divorce and separation. After all, as Tolstoy said “Happy family are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The range of issues with which one deals as a family lawyer, and the real difference that can be made to people’s lives by dealing with it appropriately is what makes the work so interesting. It never really occurred to me to do anything else once qualified.
What have been your most favourite/important cases (anonymised if necessary)?
Margaret – One of the things that one has to remember as a family lawyer is that to the client, theirs is the most important case that you have ever handled. While we see patterns of behaviour and outcomes time and again, there is always something which makes each client and the problem or problems that they bring to you unique and engaging.
Are the qualities behind your success predominantly female qualities and what are they?
Margaret – No, I think a good family lawyer, or a lawyer specialising in any field, can be a man or a woman. It is the individual who brings their strengths to the position and profession, and not their gender.
What inequality and discrimination have you experienced and observed in your career?
Margaret – All sorts: class, gender, race, disability. However, these are social ills which I do not think are unique to the legal profession, and it, like other professions, is beginning to deal with them more effectively. I would say that it has a long way yet to go however!
How would you describe your career so far overall and what are you most proud of?
Margaret – I have had an immensely satisfying, varied and interesting career, and at this moment in time I am most proud of being honoured by Resolution, an organisation of my peers, founded by the man who brought me into the profession, by being elected as its Chair. There is a lot of work to do in the arena of family justice, whether it is continuing to campaign for no fault divorce or in challenging the governments decimation of the Legal Aid system, leaving thousands of people without access top legal help, and I shall enjoy doing what I can to forward those goals.
What advice would you give your colleagues who are just starting out in their legal careers?
Margaret – Work to live; don’t live to work!