In the build-up to our ‘Choose to Challenge’ event, we have our second International Women’s Day blog post, written by Margot Nicol, Solicitor and Owner of Nicol, Harvey & Pierce Solicitors, about her experience in the legal industry.
My Father’s Shoes
I am a practising solicitor and proud alumni of Strathclyde Law School. I trained and worked in Glasgow for 6 years before moving to Stranraer. I have been a self-employed, sole practitioner for over 22 years now and principally work at the coal face in both the criminal and civil courts.
My decision to become a lawyer happened suddenly after witnessing my mother sustain a serious injury caused when a glass bottle of a lemonade exploded in her face. Prior to that I had notions of being a lorry driver or a geologist!
I witnessed first-hand the contempt and derision deployed by the lemonade company concerned when they sent out their two suited male representatives to my parents’ house with promises of free lemonade for a year if a disclaimer was signed. It was a fast-moving, working example of the type of situations where inequalities of gender and power could easily result in unfair outcomes. I spotted the inequity then and was inspired into a legal career by a desire to help others in similar situations, fight corners where needed and level the playing fields if possible.
Almost immediately upon leaving the safe haven of Strathclyde Law School to enter the workforce I encountered a full-on affront to my background and gender. I had done Ok at law school and had a few nice extras to detail on my CV which, I thought, boded well for my future employment prospects. However, at one of my first interviews for a traineeship I was brutally informed, in no uncertain terms by the senior, male partner of the firm interviewing me, that “there was no room for me in the profession for three reasons”. He very kindly listed them for me. Firstly, I was from Ayrshire. Secondly, my father was a miner and thirdly I was a woman. I have no doubt my parting words (along the lines of Ayrshire being God’s country, women being incredible and the interviewer’s unfitness to lick my father’s shoes, peppered with a few expletives) put rejection of that job application beyond reasonable doubt!
Although bewildered by this encounter, I was non-the-less undeterred and went on to secure a traineeship with a fine firm where I was privileged to be mastered by two men of integrity. One with an unrivalled work ethic and the other a great orator with fire in his belly. A couple of years later, as I was about to finish my traineeship, I rolled up at a sheriff court to argue my first summary criminal matter, all on my own. The bar officer shouted, “Court!”, we all stood up, and who walked onto the bench but the interviewer from hell, who had now been elevated to the shrieval bench. Suddenly my previous bravado came back to haunt me as I clocked the recognition in the sheriff’s eyes and my mouth went dry. He whispered something to his clerk who then quietly inquired of me, “is your father still a miner?”. That was all I needed to catapult me back into survival mode. With the sweetest smile I could muster I asked the clerk to thank the sheriff for his good wishes and to assure the Sheriff that, not only was my fine father still a miner, I was also still from Ayrshire, I was also still a woman and lest the court forgot, the appeal court was also still in Edinburgh. The sand was marked, and the point made that was needed. My client got a very good result that day!
By digging deep, being fearless and not shrinking from what was right versus what was wrong, gave me the confidence to deal with those particular occasions and many since. The outcomes are not always as successful but that’s acceptable too, provided a spirited, honest effort is always made. Diplomacy is also a good asset. I’m still working on that……