International Women’s Day 2023 – celebrating success, increasing visibility and calling out inequalityPosted: 8 Mar 2023
The focus of International Women’s Day is to celebrate the achievements of women, increase visibility and call out inequality.
Although things are starting to improve, there is still a long way for many law firms to go in dismantling the barriers facing women in the law.
At Spencer West we do things differently. Our alternative model means that all of our partners work flexibly as owners of their own practices, retaining more of the fees they bill. This flexibility allows partners to enjoy challenging and fulfilling work and collaboration with an international network of lawyers, while also working on their own terms around their other commitments.
For International Women’s Day 2023 we are sharing the stories of three of our female partners whose stories are sure to inspire others.
Reaching the highest heights! Sonya Bedford MBE, renewable energy partner
Sonya Bedford MBE is a leading renewable energy lawyer. Sonya works from her home near Bristol and has specialised in renewable energy law for over 20 years, advising on some of the most significant renewable energy projects across the country.
Sonya was awarded an MBE for her contribution to advancing renewable energy in community projects and is so dedicated to her field of specialism that she is qualified to climb wind turbines.
“I feel fortunate to be able to combine my passion for the environment with my career,” says Sonya. “At Spencer West I enjoy having autonomy over my work and a flexibility that is hard to find in more traditional law firms. Crucially, that flexibility does not come at the expense of the quality of work I’m doing. I’m driven by the fact I’m working on significant deals that are making a positive impact on communities.”
Most recently Sonya supported Bristol City Council in an internationally significant deal, securing £1bn of funding to drive its net zero ambitions through its 20-year partnership with US energy firm Amaresco and Swedish energy business Vattenfall.
Calling out discrimination from an early age - Fudia Smartt, employment partner
Fudia Smartt is now a leading employment lawyer, and her work includes representing employees in discrimination disputes. One of the reasons Fudia became a lawyer is because of an injustice she experienced herself when she was a teenager working as a check-out assistant at a supermarket.
Fudia was wrongly accused of stealing money from a till, escorted from the shop by security and suspended with immediate effect. With support from her father at two disciplinary hearings Fudia was able to clear her name, but the injustice and sense of hopelessness has stayed with her and spurs her on in how she supports her clients.
Fudia’s empathetic approach and legal acumen means that she is a sought after adviser for employees and employers as well as a regular commentator in the national press on employment law issues.
Fudia was also a Non-Executive Director of a B-Corp recruitment company for the not profit sector and provides training with Byrne Dean.
“At Spencer West I am responsible for my own workload, hours and targets. This approach means I’ve found it possible to build my employment law practice, as well as other interests including my training role. I also have a young family and I count myself fortunate that I’ve got the flexibility to juggle all of this – I know that is not the case for many parents, particularly mothers,” says Fudia.
Championing flexible working - Emma Claremont, construction disputes partner
Emma Claremont’s experience trying to find a professionally fulfilling, yet flexible, role as a lawyer led her to set up her own legal recruitment business specialising in placing lawyers in permanent yet flexible roles.
Emma had enjoyed a successful career as a construction disputes lawyer with an international law firm, spending time working in the UK and Japan. She was highly-regarded and did have some flexible working arrangements, but as she became more senior she faced increasing pressure to work longer hours and be in the office more. Eventually, Emma left the job she had loved because she couldn’t do the job she wanted to do at work and spend the time she wanted to with her young daughter.
Realising that the same thing was happening to many others, Emma set up her recruitment business to champion lawyers who have huge amounts to offer the legal profession, but who also have commitments, needs and desires that require flexibility in their working arrangements. She speaks with law firms about the impact that supporting flexible working has on diversity, equality and inclusion within the firm and the legal profession generally.
“I always intended to return to legal practice and when I found Spencer West, I realised the firm’s ethos was a perfect fit for me,” explains Emma. “I now enjoy an exciting and rewarding role as a construction disputes partner with Spencer West, alongside my recruitment business – and crucially I have the flexibility I need to fulfil my commitments in the rest of my life too.”