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Elizabeth Wilson shares her thoughts as her term as Chair of the Ecclesiastical Law Society comes to a close after three eventful and successful years

02 May 2024

We caught up with Lizzie to find out more about her work with the Society.

On Saturday 27th April 2024, after serving a three-year term, Wrigleys’ Partner Elizabeth Wilson stepped down from her role as Chair of the Ecclesiastical Law Society.

In expressing thanks on behalf of the Society at its 36th annual conference at St Peter’s Eaton Square in London, its President, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, said:

'As a trustee and latterly as Chair, Lizzie has been generous with her time and talents and she has the gift of being a leader who enables others to develop their potential creating an atmosphere of trust so that all can thrive and accomplish the goal of ensuring the good work of the Society goes from strength to strength.'

Lizzie (front row, second right) photographed with the speakers and the incoming Chair of the Ecclesiastical Law Society at the Society’s 2024 Annual Conference

 Lizzie (front row, second right) photographed with the speakers and the incoming Chair of the Ecclesiastical Law Society at the Society’s 2024 Annual Conference

As well as breaking the mould by becoming the first female Chair of such a prestigious organisation, Lizzie’s tenure as Chair brought the unexpected challenge of leading the organisation during a global pandemic! 

To mark the occasion as she steps down as Chair, we caught up with Lizzie to find out more about her work with the Society and her personal reflections on having taken on such a responsibility.

Lizzie, when did you first get involved with the Ecclesiastical Law Society (ELS) and why?

I became a member in 2008, a trustee in 2016 and chair in 2021.

The firm was already acting for a number of ecclesiastical clients when I became a member, and it seemed a natural thing to do.  I also had a genuine interest in law and religion and as such the work of the Society.

ELS has been around for quite a long time. What are its main functions? 

The ELS was founded in 1987 and exists to promote the study of ecclesiastical and canon law particularly in the Church of England and those churches in communion with it.

It provides a place for lawyers and clergy to meet and share perspectives by way of lectures and conferences.  The Society has evolved and now has a varied programme of online and in-person events including a new series of online lectures on the basics of ecclesiastical law, in a monthly series of accessible ‘bitesize’ discussions.

The Society also convenes working parties to consider specific areas of law which concern today’s Church and provides training for clergy and laity in legal matters.

The Society’s flagship work is the production of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal, a peer-reviewed periodical published by Cambridge University Press which disseminates news of legislation, court judgments and relevant publications as well as authoritative articles of historical, legal and contemporary interest.

How challenging has it been to take on the prestigious role of Chair, especially in the teeth of a pandemic? What did your duties entail?

I was elected Chair in 2021 at the Society’s annual general meeting which had to be held online due to the national lockdown.  This was a strange experience as something significant had just happened, but I was still sitting alone at my kitchen table!   In addition, I was succeeding Mark Hill KC and it was quite daunting taking over from a such a well-known and hugely talented ecclesiastical lawyer.  The pandemic meant that all meetings were initially by zoom and there was no socialising.  Luckily I already knew many of the members and trustees, but it was so much better when we could meet in person to exchange views.

Lizzie presiding over the ELS’s AGM

Lizzie presiding over the ELS’s AGM 

What have you learnt about yourself and about leadership?

I have been Chair of a small charity, Tariro UK for some years and therefore already knew something about chairing a charity and the importance of allowing people to be heard and taking account of the views of others.  However, at the ELS with over ten very talented trustees those skills were required at a whole new level!  I think I have learnt to be more patient not only with people but in waiting for the emergence of new consolidated ideas and approaches.  

Has your time in the role enhanced the way you work here at Wrigleys, and if so how?

During my time as Chair, I had the opportunity to meet a whole range of people in the Church including some who have quite extensive discretionary powers.  I learnt about how issues arise in large bodies with many and various intelligent points of view.  I hope I can bring those skills to bear in the future management of Wrigleys.  In addition, I simply now know much more about the world of many of the clients we serve. 

What would you say have been the most significant achievements during your time at ELS? What are you most proud of?

A few things spring readily to mind...

  • Staying true to the spirit of common purpose and fellowship during the dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Modernising the governance structure of the Society by leading on the incorporation from a charitable trust to a CIO.

  • Forming and working with an Executive Team who support the work of the trustees and enable the successful organisation of lectures and conferences, with some very distinguished speakers.

  • Working with and developing a closer relationship with Roman Catholic colleagues at the Canon Law Society of Britain and Ireland.

  • The fact that the keynote speaker for the 2025 conference marking the 1700th anniversary of the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea is His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Did the firm encourage you to take this role on?

Yes.  The firm's approach is well summarised as stated by our late Founding Partner, Matthew Wrigley:

'Wrigleys are different.  We have no glass ceilings.  We want you to succeed.  In each of our work groups, exceptional people routinely do work of a quality, and to a standard, which many other firms or counsel encounter rarely, if at all.  Join one of these groups, and find within its specialist range a subject which really interests and appeals to you.  Then make it your own and run with it.  We will back you all the way.'

Do you think this sort of external role provides a good career development path for colleagues? Would you encourage them to think about additional external roles?

Yes.  Wrigleys gives you the freedom and autonomy to use your initiative and explore new opportunities in areas of interest to you.  An external role not only increases your skills but allows you to build up a framework of professional contacts and also to enjoy sharing your interests as part of a community.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Elizabeth Wilson or any member of our Faith team on 0113 244 6100.

You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys Solicitors on X.

The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature.  The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Elizabeth Wilson

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