I have laughed many times with friends about the fact I was one of those people who always knew they wanted to study law. Growing up in Ireland during the “troubles” I had a fascination with law and politics and from a young age always knew it was what I wanted to study. Looking back I was cringe-worthily keen.
I remember so clearly the public law 1 classes in first year and that I was one of the few people who just loved public law. I remember listening to Tony Prosser, Jim Murdoch and Tom Mullen and knowing that somehow this was what I wanted to do. It was such a fascinating time to be studying public law as my year was the first year the Human Rights Act and Scotland Act could really be taught as subjects. It is crazy to think about that now but back in 1999 we were at the very beginning of what would become the backbone to the constitution. One thing I loved about Glasgow University was the focus they placed on the importance of public law subjects. Fast forward to fourth year and my honours subjects were constitutional law, administrative law and the European Human Rights project. I am nothing if not consistent!
Given that background I am proud to have carved out a career as a government lawyer. I have been working for the Government Legal Service for Scotland for the past 13 years. I spent 12 wonderful years working as a litigation solicitor for the Scottish Government, working on judicial reviews on a daily basis. I am in the very fortunate position to be able to say that I love my job. I have been lucky enough to work on some of the most high profile litigations of the past decade. I was the litigation solicitor who worked on the challenge to the minimum pricing of alcohol by the Scotch Whisky Association. I worked on that case for 6 years and during its lifetime I went from being young, free and single to married with 2 little kids to keep me on my toes! I also learned way too much about how many units of alcohol I consumed whilst studying at Glasgow! More recently I had the privilege of being the solicitor dealing with the challenge to the prorogation of Parliament on behalf of the Lord Advocate. Taking a case from the Outer House through to the Supreme Court in the space of a month certainly had its challenges but looking back to my 18 year old self I doubt I would have dreamt of being involved in one of, if not the most important constitutional case of our time. I have very recently taken up the position of Deputy Solicitor to the Sheku Bayoh public inquiry. Having worked within the adversarial litigation system for so long I am fascinated to see how the inquisitorial work of an Inquiry will take place and am passionate about the importance of this Inquiry and the work we will undertake.
As clichéd as it is to say, the main challenge in dealing with fast paced and high profile cases is trying to balance work and family life. Having 2 small children and trying to juggle what can, at times, be a very demanding workload is difficult and it is something I think women feel in particular. The Covid pandemic has shone a spotlight on this even further. I am in the extremely fortunate position to have an employer that put our caring responsibilities first, ensuring that our focus was on our families. I know from friends that that was not the experience of most and, unfortunately, women took on a lot of the burden of trying to juggle work and schooling small children. One of the main issues, in my opinion, is the attitude of employers. There is a perception that women will take up that caring role and as such many employers do not expect men to take that time to share the responsibilities.
Although we have progressed in so many ways we still have a long way to go. It still makes me angry when well-meaning individuals comment that I am “lucky” to have my husband. By “lucky” what they mean is that, due to my work pattern, he does the pickups from school and nursery. I was very clear when deciding to start a family that we share everything 50/50 in terms of childcare. My husband was in complete agreement and that is how we have always been. I cannot imagine that anyone comments to him that he is “lucky” to have me because I look after the kids on a Friday! It is not until we, as a society, move to consider childcare responsibilities to be as equally the domain of the father as the mother that we can truly progress to shatter glass ceilings.
Despite the juggling act I feel extremely fortunate to work in a field that I am passionate about. I go to work every day knowing that I love what I am doing. I will always be thankful to Glasgow for opening my eyes to the possibilities of what a career in public law could be. I was inspired by the passion my lecturers had in their subjects and genuinely mean it when I say Glasgow gave me the career I have today. Glasgow also gave me my two best friends who still laugh at just how keen I was!