The year 2019 marks 100 years since the introduction of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers. The First Hundred Years project is commemorating the centenary to shape the future of women in law.
To celebrate the event, Coodes is putting the spotlight on some of its own team members. Here, Partner and Head of Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence Rachel Pearce reflects on her experiences as a lawyer.
1. When and why did you decide to become a lawyer?
When I was very young and asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ I would answer that I wanted to ‘float in space’! When I realised that this wasn’t going to be a very likely career path, I then decided I wanted to either become a solicitor or go into the police. As part of my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at school, I attended a course at the local police station which fascinated me. During my A levels I gained work experience in the Medical Negligence department of a law firm in Manchester. After that I knew I wanted to work in law, specialising in medical negligence and fighting for justice for patients. My parents were also both medical professionals (GP and midwife) so that probably played a part too.
2. What drives you in your role?
The clients we act for and the trauma that they have been through (through no fault of their own) is what drives me in my role. These types of cases can take many years to investigate and conclude and we need to investigate the client’s life in detail. Inevitably that means we build strong relationships with our clients and it can be hard sometimes to not become emotional about what the client or a loved one has been through. Some of the cases are, of course, very upsetting and when the defendants deny liability, but are clearly at fault, this fuels my drive to fight the case hard and achieve the justice the client deserves.
3. What or who has inspired you in your career?
In my career I have had the chance to work with some very highly regarded solicitors in the medical negligence field who have been recognised for their achievements and really fought hard to achieve justice for their clients. They are since retired or taken on consultant roles, but their determination and dedication to their careers has hugely inspired me in my career. I am also inspired by seeing how compensation can change a client’s future and, whilst it will never change the situation they are left in, it can ensure that they receive all the care and support that they need now and for the rest of their lives.
4. What do you like about working for Coodes?
My wonderful team who work tirelessly to achieve justice for all our clients. We work very closely together and all support one another every day. The cases we deal with can be very upsetting and harrowing but we all work hard together as a team to achieve the best outcomes for our clients.
Coodes is also hugely supportive of part-time working and flexi-hours, which has been perfect for me following my maternity leave, as it enables me to do the nursery drop offs and pickups.
5. What is your proudest moment (personal or professional)?
My beautiful daughter makes me beam with pride every single day.
6. What changes have you seen during your career that have affected female lawyers?
Part-time working and flexi-hours being recognised as a positive is a major change that has benefited many people in the profession.
When I started working as a Paralegal at a firm in Hertfordshire, some years ago now, there were only two female partners with the majority (eight) being male. Over the years this has radically changed and when I was at a Partners meeting the other month, I noticed that there are more female partners than male in attendance.
I’ve also seen an increase in female lawyers becoming Judges.
7. What advice would you give to a young woman considering a legal career?
Be clear on what is expected of you and, if you are not sure, ask. Ensure you effectively time manage your caseload and any additional management duties. Always strive for a good work-life balance.
Rachel Pearce is Partner and Department Manager for Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence. She is an accredited specialist with the Law Society Clinical Negligence Accreditation Scheme, a Senior Litigator and Accreditation Clinical Negligence Specialist with APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) and a member of INQUEST Lawyers Group.