Remembering Joan Rubinstein, pioneer female solicitor

Published 20th February 2018
Joan Stanley Rubinstein, pioneer female solicitor, marriage guidance counsellor, psychotherapist and founder member of Resolution was born in Kensington on the 18th November 1921, into a long standing family of solicitors.

After war service at Bletchley Park (breaking Japanese codes) she was articled to her Father and admitted as a solicitor in 1947. Although Rubinsteins had a strong reputation for publishing law (for example acting for Penguin Books in the famous obscenity trial in 1960 concerning “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”) Joan worked on the Divorce side and from the beginning felt that the confrontational, litigious attitude was wrong. In those days even the Divorce itself was contentious, requiring a finding of “fault” on the part of one spouse held to be the “guilty” party. That person was then liable to lose everything – home, money, children, reputation, the lot – the “innocent” party having “won” the Divorce case. Believing this to be fundamentally dishonest, Joan met with the then Law Society Secretary-General, Sir Thomas Lund, to discuss introducing guidance to solicitors to work towards reducing that acrimony and unfairness. He expressed sympathy but wanted to know how the proposed new approach would make money for solicitors. If it did not, he said, the proposal would be a non starter.

But feisty Joan did not give up. In 1964 she was invited by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, to contribute to his Inquiry into a fairer and more modern Divorce process. The outcome was the 1966 “Putting Asunder” report recommending full scale change and resulting in the Divorce Reform Acts 1969 and 1971.

The new legislation introduced the separation grounds for Divorce, the Special Procedure for the Decree and the discretionary process for financial division.

Thereafter in 1982 Resolution (initially named the Solicitors’ Family Law Association) was founded. 35 years on Resolution, remains a highly respected organisation and the conciliatory, non confrontational approach is embraced throughout the family law system.

Joan did not have to face the modern motherhood/work/life juggle but of course she encountered issues at a time when women comprised only a tiny proportion of the profession. She was for example informed that she was not entitled to dine at The Law Society in Chancery Lane. Her Dad had taken her to lunch in the dining room.

“ Sir, Madam, Sir,” said a very embarrassed waitress “I am sorry but women are not allowed in here”. “My daughter is not a woman,” replied Mr Rubinstein politely “she is an Articled Clerk!” Father and daughter enjoyed their meal.

Whilst still in legal practice Joan trained as a Marriage Guidance counsellor going on to develop that in retirement by becoming a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Her hobbies were holidays, modest amounts of wine and cream cakes. Right up to shortly before her death it was a pleasure to visit her at her Islington home.

“Miss Joan” as she was known to her clients remained a spinster and had no children of her own but she is survived by her nephew solicitor John Rubinstein and nieces Sara and Antonia. She died on 8th June 2017 aged 95.

For more information on Resolution visit: www.resolution.org.uk

Written by Christl Hughes, former high street solicitor and Chair of SBA The Solicitors Charity.