During the Month of International Women’s Day, Harneys takes a look at women’s achievements in the law and is proud to feature female litigators as part of its global commitment to #BalanceForBetter. 2019 also marks a significant milestone: it is the 100 year anniversary of women joining the legal profession as practising solicitors. The First 100 Years campaign aims to ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession by raising awareness about their history and inspiring future generations of female lawyers.
Described as the Grand Dame of litigation funding, Susan Dunn qualified as s solicitor in 1992 and has worked as a litigator in the UK and US. She has also been a diplomat for the British Government in Atlanta, as well as spending some time in the dot com world attempting to put government services online in the early 2000s. Susan ran the first funder in the UK, IML, from 2002-2007 and co-founded one of the world’s largest funders, Harbour Litigation Funding in 2007 which now funds in 15 jurisdictions.
What keeps you busy?
My job has kept me very busy for 17 years now. First in getting the concept up and running, then growing the business and developing the concept of funding in multiple jurisdictions. It’s what I love about it - this journey has been one of constant development and I feel like I have had several jobs in one which is why I never tire of it – it really has been the most wonderfully interesting career. I had no idea when I started out in a converted carpet factory in Kidderminster in 2002, that funding might become what it is today and I have loved how it has led me to meet so many amazing people around the world.
I have finally got better at allowing other things to keep me busy too. I have a great love for the creative arts and my love of art has become something of an addiction, but I find it very calming. That too has led me into worlds far from that of litigation funding and I love to seek out the art scene whenever I am travelling. Artists have such a wonderful perspective of the world which is very different to ours and I am fortunate to have become friends with some of them.
What achievement are you proudest of?
There were times on the journey when I wondered if I had made the right choices. Money was very tight in the early days and it was overwhelming to have to do everything to get funding up and running. I watched as friends became partners in law firms and many times I wondered if I should return to that. But I come from a family of very determined people and I had a very supportive partner and I kept plugging away, impersonating a confident person to get this thing into the mainstream, which is really where it is today now that funding is used by all clients and all law firms.
What makes me happiest today is to see our team enjoying what we have all created. And of course when a funded case succeeds, which otherwise would not have got off the ground but for the funding we provide, that is a great feeling.
I am pleased we have also been able to introduce the concept of funding into many jurisdictions and I think the discipline which funders have injected into how all parties, lawyers and clients alike, assess and run cases, is a good thing for the profession.
What challenges do women face in your profession?
We are in financial services which, like law at the senior levels, has tended to be more male, but there are a number of great women now in funding.
I think what connects us all is that we have been somewhat determinedly oblivious to those who might try to get in our way. Like many of my peers, I have experienced things which were completely unacceptable in the workplace, and there are days still when I get a little weary of the continued imbalance as I sit in a room full of men feeling like the odd one out, but progress is being made and we have to seize and celebrate that. We have an incredible voice and purchasing power at all levels nowadays and we must continue to exercise that. Money talks!
I see women across the board calling out bad behaviour and demanding equality on everything from speaking panels to roles in their firms. We have to present an equal picture in order to inspire others to join us or we will lose the talented younger members of our professions. The simple truth (statistically proven) is organisations are more successful where there is balance and I think men and women bring out the best in each other when they work together in equal numbers.
Has anything changed for women in your career?
Slowly, yes, usually too slowly for impatient me. But I am enjoying the sense that women feel they can speak up and not feel alone as we continue to gather a more collective voice. We are all much more conscious of the need to mentor and develop all colleagues (not just women) than ever before.
We have an increasing number of great female role models but also great men who have championed and advocated women. My dad was the one who made me believe anything was possible (not in an overly indulgent way, he just made me blind to the possibility of prejudice which is quite liberating) and the chairman of my first funder, IML, Chris Morris, was an incredible advocate for women in a world (insolvency) which was notoriously male dominated at the time. I was very fortunate to have him as my chairman. He also had a great Oscar Wilde-ian wit.
What advice would you give to women entering your profession now?
Take all the opportunities presented to you and do so enthusiastically. Create a great network, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And be supportive and kind to those around you but don’t be afraid to be exacting and questioning, just do so politely and firmly. A sense of humour is vital – both to puncture pomposity and not to take yourself too seriously. And don’t worry and get anxious over the things you can’t change – worrying just leads to sleeplessness, not solutions.
On behalf of all of the women at Harneys, the team is delighted to unite and reflect on this occasion and showcase female litigators from around the world.