‘I’m called Rottweiler with a handbag – but I’ve made millions in the courtroom’

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    A lawyer known as the 'Rottweiler with a handbag' revealed how she got her feisty name – and won her clients millions in compensation.

    Gillian Howard has a career spanning over 40 years, and a successful one of that too. The employment lawyer, from Coventry, decided to study law at university after her father offered career advice and promoted a 'can do' attitude.

    From taking her father's advice, and along with an invitation from her professor at Bristol, Gillian took a scholarship at Cambridge to study postgraduate Labour Law.

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    While the profession was dominated by men at the time, and still largely is, she found that not many men wanted to work in employment law due to a cap on compensation – meaning there wasn't much money in it. But, that didn't steer Gillian away – as she has always stood up for the underdog since her days in the school playground.

    After the the cap for discrimination was removed in 1998, employment law became more lucrative which meant that more male lawyers started to specialise in the area. With Gillian already well versed in arguing in the courtroom against discrimination in the workplace, the lawyer won millions in compensation – including a whopping $75million (£61.5million) in a singular case.

    And one of her cases was even made into ITV drama 'Sex, the City and Me' where Sarah Lancashire played a character based off Gillian. Speaking exclusively to Daily Star, Gillian revealed how she solidified her reputation in the courtroom, navigated law as a woman and stood up against the status quo.

    The employment lawyer explained: "Years ago I acted for a lovely lady, she had been very very badly sexually assaulted and discriminated against and sexually harassed at a Christmas party, of course, that’s where it happens. And she’s gone to see her physician who was also an occupational health practitioner who referred her to me as a client.

    "At the end of it all when I won a significant amount of money for her and we were successful, she said ‘oh you do deserve your name Gillian’ and I said ‘oh really, what’s that?’. She said Rob McNally calls you the Rottweiler with a handbag’ because I do have a rather fine collection of handbags and I suppose I looked like a Rottweiler or acted like a Rottweiler.

    "Anyway, I thought it was wonderful and when I created my website the web designer said ‘you need a handle what can we call you on your website and I said well I have been called a Rottweiler with a handbag, ‘oh wonderful’ he said so that’s what I called myself."

    Ever since then, Gillian’s chic but feisty name stuck. And it's even taken the fancy of a fellow lawyer who thought they would pinch the moniker. But, their efforts proved to be barking-mad.

    Gillian – who is based in London – continued: "I had a case with an opposing female barrister who was extremely prickly and during our negotiations she said ‘you know what I’m called, I’m called a Rottweiler with a handbag’ and I looked at her and said I don’t think you are, I don’t think so.

    "Then I friend of mine Peter Armstrong who is an Intellectual Property lawyer said trademark the name Gillian, so I did."

    As her nickname would suggest, Gillian doesn't find it difficult to stand up for herself. While she feels that women use their emotional intelligence in the courtroom, she feels that some male lawyers can use more of a "bully" tactic when it comes to arguing a case.

    But, on instances, she has faced misogynistic sneers from the opposition herself – including being labelled a "patronising b***h". When asked if she'd been faced with any sexist remarks, Gillian exclaimed: “Oh yes."

    “It’s only happened a few times it’s always men, always and they think they can patronise and or be rude and I’ve always said to them, in fact I remember saying to one of them 'well you can deal with me in two ways, you can either be polite, professional and we can get on or you can be rude and patronising in which case we won’t get on – which would you prefer?'

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    "And he said 'you patronising b***h'. So I said 'oh the second way'. I won’t stand for any nonsense. I’ve had lots of opponents who have been charming, polite and professional – you need to get on with the other side. We’re not fighting, it’s our clients that our fighting.

    "You’re doing your client a great disservice if you don’t get on with the other side, but there's no means to say you can’t be hard, you can’t be direct, you can’t be quite aggressive in a litigious way, not aggressive verbally. You never know when you need a favour from the other side."

    After accumulating many cases and experiences in the courtroom over the years from battling misogyny to dealing with it face-on, Gillian decided to write a book about all about her career, titled 'Secrets and Lies – Tales of an Employment Lawyer'.

    While she's experienced lighter moments like a client insisting on quoting ABBA songs to the judge to winning millions of pounds for those who have been wronged in the workplace, two years later her book is ready to read. And it's already gone down a treat with those fascinated with the 'secret and lies' of the courtroom.

    Gillian shared: "For years corporate and individual clients have said to me Gillian you must write a book about your cases, they are so funny, they are so varied, they are so colourful. At the start of lockdown I didn’t think I’d be busy but I was actually busier than ever so I thought ok I will start my book.

    "So I dredged up various cases, ones that have just happened and older ones, and as more came to my memory I added to them, and it took me two years to write but I’m very pleased with it.

    "I’ve had lots of wonderful emails, one from a fantastic police officer who said he was dyslexic and never read for pleasure but he read about my book and bought it and was reading it and said 'I know it will but I don’t want it to ever end'."

    Secrets and Lies – Tales of an Employment Lawyer is available to purchase from Amazon, here.

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