Ask Elspeth Thomson, managing director of David Gray Solicitors LLP, if her gender has ever had an impact on her career, either positively or negatively, and she’ll give you a quizzical look.
“I don’t believe that it ever has. I’ve always felt empowered to achieve whatever ambition I set myself. Or maybe it’s because I specialise in family law – a field traditionally dominated by women lawyers. Whatever the reason, I don’t recognise my gender as a particularly important issue.”
Elspeth, who is accredited by Resolution as a specialist lawyer in the areas of private children law and domestic abuse, has just returned from court and is briefing her team about the week’s priorities. She’s currently in the middle of a three-week public law trial before the designated family judge for Newcastle – Her Honour Judge Hudson.
Elspeth reveals that the case is a little unusual, not because of the clients, but because of the makeup of the court room.
“Everyone involved in the case is female: the judge, QCs and the solicitors.
“We’re all women, which isn’t the norm. In fact, the only professional men involved in the case are the medical experts,” she explains.
However, the helmswoman at David Gray Solicitors – who has been repeatedly asked to share her professional knowledge in the media including on BBC2’s Newsnight, Radio 4’s Women’s Hour and Law in Action, and on Radio Newcastle – recognises that her experience within the legal profession doesn’t necessarily match that of others.
“There is no question that at David Gray Solicitors we buck the trend when it comes to the number of female managers we have in the firm. 70 per cent of our partners are women, compared to a national average of 37 per cent. Ask me why this is case and I really couldn’t answer. All I know is that we pick the very best lawyers to do the job.”
A study last year by the Law Society of England and Wales revealed that the gender pay gap is still an issue for the profession generally, with a gap of nearly 20 per cent separating men and women. That, however, certainly isn’t the case with Elspeth’s law firm, which employs 60 staff and 30 lawyers.
When asked to cite a strong female business leader she admires, Elspeth names Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop who died in 2007: “She famously said, ‘I run my company according to feminine principles – principles of caring, making intuitive decisions… having a sense of work as being part of your life, not separate from it; putting your labour where your love is; being responsible to the world in how you use your profit.’ I think that pretty much sums up my approach, too.”
David Gray is holding its second ladies’ evening on December 8 at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art to celebrate women in North East business and raise money for Children North East.
David Gray Solicitors