Jane Wright out hiking in Foxhouse, Derbyshire.

Jane Wright out hiking in Foxhouse, Derbyshire.

“Jane is a pioneer and like all pioneers she doesn’t ‘do’ limitations. She’s totally fearless,” says Rita Britton about Jane Wright, Regional Managing Partner for the Leeds and Newcastle offices of Irwin Mitchell solicitors. “She can kill you with a look or have you die from laughing. If I were in court with her on the opposing side I’d plead guilty, even if I wasn’t.”

So how does Wright feel about being crowned this month’s Pioneering Woman? “Hmmm… I was a physiotherapist before I became a lawyer, and I think that I was the first person to ever make that particular career switch. Would you call that pioneering or insane, I don’t know?” says Lincolnshire-born, Sheffield-based Wright with a hearty laugh. “What I do know is that, despite the fact both jobs tend to be rule driven, I’ve always had a mindset of thinking outside of the box. I get a real buzz from problem solving and viewing the world in a slightly different way.”

“Both law and physiotherapy are about problem solving; and one of the most interesting things to come out of the career change was that people presumed I didn’t like being a physiotherapist,” says Wright who specialised in spinal and traumatic head injuries. “The truth is that I absolutely adored physiotherapy as an occupation and it stood me in good stead for a second career in law — it taught me how to work closely with people and how to gain their trust. And isn’t that what any successful business is about: gaining people’s trust and doing things that enhance their wellbeing? Isn’t that what Rita does?”

The Wright stuff: wool gabardine cuff trouser (£595); cashmere sweater (£350); sandwash silk classic shirt (£450).

The Wright stuff: wool gabardine cuff trouser (£595); cashmere sweater (£350); sandwash silk classic shirt (£450).

Wright has been a client of Britton’s since early-Pollyanna days. “Bloody hell, it’s that long ago that I first met Jane that it’s part of the dark, distant past. Jane is now one of ‘The Family’,” says Britton. “What Jane does — and what I’ve noticed a lot of successful people do — is that she goes for a look that she knows she is going to be comfortable with; a look that fits in with both her working and casual wardrobes. She is very clever about what she buys; usually half a dozen of the same thing that she knows will work. Clever, busy people do not have time to spend three hours getting themselves ready every morning.”

“We have a mutually respectful relationship based on honesty,” chimes in Wright. “I’ve known Rita for at least 20 years and she is the kind of person who will say to me, ‘You look a bugger in that’ or ‘No! That won’t work’.”

Today, Wright looks nothing short of amazing in a slick, black trouser suit; its smartness offset by her trademark shock of unruly curls. “When you go to court you need to look the business, and your clients want you to look the business too. But one of the things that is really interesting about women’s fashion is that, quite often, women are encouraged to wear stuff that they’re not comfortable in just because it’s fashionable.”

So how difficult is it for Wright to juggle the sartorial conservatism expected of a top lawyer with her own passion for avant-garde style? After all, there is the misguided belief that you have to dress dowdy to be taken seriously. “A few years ago, I was really struggling to find somebody who could make my suits for work so I went to London to see lots of different tailors. Some of them were awful (and said ‘you’re not our kind of customer’) but the people at Paul Smith were amazing. Paul Smith has made my suits ever since. They’re made from fantastic British materials with these sexy details: the linings, the buttons…”

She means business: looks from Paul Smith's AW16 collection.

She means business: looks from Paul Smith’s AW16 collection.

And Wright has another weapon in her style arsenal: height. “I’ve always been incredibly grateful for being tall. You can get away with a lot if you’re tall; and in a work situation I can do quite a lot by just standing up straight. It’s a really powerful tool,” she says, measuring 5’10” in her stockinged feet. “It’s something I used the other day. There was this really officious bloke who was really in my face, and so I just slowly stood up straight and you could see him go ‘Woah’.”

An intelligent, successful lawyer who stands head and shoulders above everybody else when she pops on her stillies (“I’m 6’ in heels”) is a powerful woman to behold. Add to this the fact that Wright is an Out-and-proud lesbian and you have the recipe for a brunette bombshell. “I think that accepting your own sexuality and being openly Out is the most empowering thing of all. Is it still sometimes difficult to be gay? Yes because we are faced with judgment every single day. But we have come a very long way. If you had told me in the 1970’s/‘80s that, one day, I would be allowed to get married to another woman I wouldn’t have believed you.”

That woman is Wright’s civil partner Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences at The University of Sheffield. “She takes my breath away; not just in the sense of how she looks but also as a person,” says Wright who is obviously soooo in love with her aptly-named other-half. “I am in awe of the things that she does and how successful she is; and we have a mutual respect which is fundamental to our relationship.”

Not that being lesbian/gay in 2016, with its civil partnerships and ever-increasing awareness, is all hunky dorey. “I really do believe that the unspoken challenge for gay people today is to overcome their own potential for homophobia. And why wouldn’t you be homophobic if, from a very young age, you’ve been brought up with everybody telling you that to be gay is a bad thing?” blasts Wright. “I don’t care if people say they were brought up in a very liberal way; I still think that when gay people start to address their sexuality chances are they haven’t been told anything positive about being homosexual.”

Jane Wright

Jane Wright

“The other challenge about being gay is that we are still hugely influenced by very heterosexual role models; they are so predominant that you can’t help but try and fit in when actually one of the most fantastic things is that you don’t have to fit in. I certainly wouldn’t have done the things I’ve done were I a straight woman: I wouldn’t have been as brave, as lateral thinking or as much fun.”

And Wright is fun — by the bucket load. “My big passion is travel. This year, Gill and I will have a couple of weeks in Greece for some sun and book reading-time, and then we are going to trek Polar bears in Canada in November. Oh and yeah, we’re going to the Maldives in January.”

With hectic work and travel schedules it sounds like there is little time to even consider a third career change. “At 58-years-old I doubt it,” says Wright with mock exhaustion. “However, I would like to use my skills to help young entrepreneurs; people who have got good ideas for their own business and who are at that stage where they need to raise capital or start employing people. There are a lot of people with brilliant ideas who don’t have the kind of mentoring which enables them to move their business forward. I don’t think we are good at helping people like that in this country.”

Looking back to her own youth, what would Wright tell her younger self? “I think that most 16-year-olds are full of angst and that the future looks intimidating,” says Wright. “So I would tell myself, ‘Get ready for it Jane: you’re going to have more fun than you think’.”