Eva Crawley

Published 17th July 2014
It would be no exaggeration to state that, without the efforts of Eva Crawley, the Association for Women Solicitors might not exist, and that many women who had taken career breaks to become mothers would have had neither the confidence nor the facility to get back into the profession.

In 1969, the 1919 Club – an informal group set up by the first female solicitors – was dwindling. With as few as 100 members, and frankly little real purpose, it was facing dissolution. The plans were to spend the rest of the Club’s funds on a last hoorah: a lavish dinner for its members. This, it must be said, would have been a sad demise to a club set up by some of the most important women of the last century. Eva received a letter detailing the plans, and decided to be proactive. Galvanised by her belief in the necessity of the group for the furthering of women in the profession, she attended the EGM where the decision was to be made. Eva fought the Club’s corner, and won. This was the beginning of a new era, with the 1919 Club reborn as the Association for Women’s Solicitors, and Eva at the helm.

Eva qualified as a solicitor in 1954, having become the first female articled clerk at a Lincoln’s Inn Fields firm thanks to her father paying the £400 premium, and took a job targeted solely towards women, due to the fact that it carried no prospects of partnership, and paid relatively little. This job suited her, though, for at the time the ambition of most women was limited to working for just a few years before starting a family; future prospects were surplus to requirement. Indeed, a few years later, Eva was married with two children, and her legal career seemed all but over.

However, when asked by a friend to do the conveyancing on his property purchase, persuaded by her husband’s assertion that they could do with the money, she accepted, and from here she grew a home property and probate practice. Eventually, the impracticality of running a business from the kitchen table in the pre-technology era led Eva to search for an alternative. She managed to secure work at a local firm, having convinced them to allow her a month’s trial – they explicitly stated they wanted to hire a man instead – but in fact ended up staying for ten years.

Having decided to go back to work, Eva was shocked by the lack of support for women returning to the profession. She was assured by the Law Society that there was no demand for such a thing, and her requests to pay to sit in at lectures at the College of Law were flatly refused.

When Eva had taken on her role as Secretary of the AWS, she saw an opportunity to tackle this issue that had so troubled her on her return to the profession. Meeting at a dinner with the Bursar and law tutor of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, the idea of a Refreshers’ course was born. Although the Law Society refused to help fund the venture, law tutors and members of the AWS volunteered their times and resources. The first course was held in 1977, attended by 25 women and 1 man. Demand for, and momentum behind, the course gathered quick pace, with the Law Society soon recognising its worth and assisting with funding. Countless returners have been able to find work with thanks to the course, and in 1999 Eva was awarded an OBE for her work on women’s advancement in the profession.

Eva sadly passed away in 2003, but her contribution to the advancement of women has been immortalised by the Eva Crawley Award, given by the AWS to women who have made a similarly outstanding contribution. It is the highest honour that the Association can bestow, reflective of the tremendous work Eva did in furthering the cause of women in the legal profession.