Tell Your Story

At the heart of the First 100 Years project are 100 incredible stories charting the journey of women in law. From famous names such as Baroness Hale and Shami Chakrabarti to the unknown stars of tomorrow, this ground-breaking history project is capturing what female lawyers have endured and achieved since 1919. But one story is missing; yours. So please share your story with the First 100 Years and be a part of history right now.

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All stories appear in full, and all stories appear anonymously.

 

Coming up on the outside

Arriving from Australia in January 1952 with an incomplete Sydney University degree and an offer for Oxford in October 1953 by which time I would be 21 and seemingly very old I sought alternatives. At a party the lateMichael Sherrard suggested " why not read for the Bar ? " What did he meanand how to go about it ?
Joining an Inn was step one. Ignorant decided to inspect these inns. I did so. Research revealed Lincoln's was " chancery" , i.e. Dckensian. Grays was "provincial ", how dreadful. Then there were two. At Inner the under treasurer suggested that Middle was like the black hole of Calcutta which as a presumed practitioner of the White Australia policy I would not feel comfortable in.
So Middle it was, and a happy happy choice.
Eading for the Bar , studying at a tutorial factory, Gibson and Weldons, and working as a clerk for a stuffy firm of solicitors n Lincoln's Inn kept me buy for two years. If there was sexual discrimination it passed me by. The senior partner of the solicitors used my services occasionally to go to Dickins and Jnes in my lunch hour to buy sexy underwear for his never seen mistress. It was fun and amazing.
Having finished the Bar exams by the summer of 1953 but not yet eaten enough dinners I sought a pupillage.
The family solicitor introduced me to IH ( Jack ) Jacob who had already had a woman pupil, Poppy Stanley, and he agreed to take me along with Louis Blom-Cooper. We slaved doing pleadings galore which Jack threw into the waste paper basket, unread. He ten dictated model ocuments which impinged for their brevity and simplicity.
Etting Chambers was a different ball game. Jack kept Louis but I was out because the clerk and the other barristers would not have a woman. They did not do so for years. The first was Lord Hailsham's daughter... Oh well !
After six months as a door tenant frequenting criminal courts on the south eastern circuit and having the occasional dock brief and doinglectures in the evenings at a poly in Woolwich I got lucky.
At 2 Dr. Johnson's Buildings a split had occurred leaving three barristers and.6 rooms. I spoke to Albert the clerk and he said they did nottake women but that Mr. Rochford the head of Chambers would see me. He was like Mr. Pickwick. He said that the Bar n its unwisdom had decided to admit women. That my academic record was excellent and that he felt it was his duty to offer me a place which was available.
I went out and sat in the clerk's ( only one ) room and Albert went in to see Rochford. . He was clearly aghast. He told me that there would be a prblem about sharing a room. About the lavatories(
When I came back to start the following week Peter Archer later Solicitor General , Labour, and Lord , agreed I could be in with him. We enjoyed 22 years cohabitation and never a cross word.
It was no more difficult for me than for the others.My bottom was unpinched. M skirts left to themselves.
I tried to start a Women's Bar Association n about 1967 because the Bar Council had posted a notice n all the robing rooms stating that women should not wear mini skirts ! They rarely did and the whole thing was outrageous. Abou thirty women turned up to a meeting. Before that Elizabeth Lane had sent for me and lectured me saying that we were barristers like the men and should not try separating ourselves. Those at m meetng agreed.
My practice was pretty wide, but mainl divorce and some crime.
In 1977 I was invited to be the first woman Chairman of Industrial Tribunals. In retrospect t was a mistake. I had applied for silk the previous year and should have persevered. But I remained in the job until 1991. The wmen's and equal rights movements caught me up and in ssome ways left me behind.
Of my generation there were many man unsng success stories ...Mary MacMurray, Pat Coles, Audrey Frisby, Pat Coles, Hazel Counsell,, Nna Collins ( Lowry ), Jean Henderson, Morgan Gbbon and many more most of whom went on the Bench or took silk or just stayd on in practice...
May the next hundred years be as jyful as despite the lack of evidnce in support, the firs fifty plus were.
Thank you.

Across the Atlantic, women were called ‘honey’

I began practicing law as a litigator for a Wall Street law firm in 1979. I was often the only female attorney in a courtroom of 100 lawyers, was regularly addressed as "honey" and asked to get coffee, and wore suits that looked like a man's except for the skirt. My only female colleague was told when she became pregnant that she had made a " life choice and it wasn't in favor of the law." The first time I argued a motion in a case between a famous composer and his ex-wife, I was sure that I had lost when the composer's attorney and the judge (both male of course) began reminiscing and singing the composer's songs(!). I will be forever thankful to the judge's female law clerk, who gave me a sympathetic look and undoubtedly wrote the judge's opinion that gave me the victory on the motion. 37 years and six jobs later, I'm the general counsel of a non-profit corporation with revenues of $75 million and 1500 employees, so as the saying goes, I guess I've come a long way baby!

Women in Trousers

I remember when I was a lawyer before my recruitment career and it was announced at our firm that women could start wearing trouser suits.......it wasn't really that long ago either - about 1999 / 2000!!

A Punjabi woman’s journey through the legal system: 1972 – 2008

In 1972 joined the Race Equality Council and as part of my role I had to accompany defendants to the local magistrate court. I learnt that the interpretive skills were often sub-standard, meaning defendants were not receiving fair legal treatment.

Soon after sharing my findings with my department, I was encouraged to join the bench as a Justice of the Peace. It was strikingly evident that there were no ethnic minority women representing the community within this field. The majority of my colleagues were men and my placement was largely received with negativity. I was frequently side-lined and uncomfortable as a result of behaviour towards me.

With courage and determination to succeed in my own right, I overcame daily obstacles and prejudice. I served within the legal system for over 33 years. Relationships and behaviour towards both me and my female colleagues over the years, did markedly improve - making our roles more free and fulfilling.

Today, I feel encouraged by the equal treatment and prospects of all - across race, disability, gender and age.

The First Woman In Chambers

I was called to the Bar in 1983 having wanted to be a barrister since I was a child. My first pupillage was with David (now Lord) Neuberger who provided wonderful support and encouragement and if there was discrimination I did not notice. My second pupillage was in a chancery set in Lincoln's Inn. Women were only just starting to come to the Chancery Bar and I was the first woman my set took on. Overt discrimination was rife. Solicitors were often reluctant to instruct a women and being patronised became a fact of life (it could be quite useful because it tended to come hand in hand with being underestimated). When I became pregnant after 7 years of practice, there was no question of a rent holiday while I took maternity leave. Indeed it was suggested (but never implemented because nobody could do the maths) that I should pay an enhanced rate of chambers expenses because I would not be earning as much. I moved chambers in 2001 to a set where there are lots of successful women and it made a significant difference. I took silk in 2009, became a civil recorder the following year and a deputy High Court Judge the following year. I am the present Chair of the Chancery Bar Association and I am delighted that overt discrimination has mainly been eradicated and women can take proper maternity leave with the support of their chambers. Yet I despair at the paucity of female silks (the Chancery Bar got one last year) and that the judiciary is still overwhelmingly male.

Senior Clerk opposition to women for lack of lavatories

My mother was one of the early years women barristers at Gray's Inn with Rose Heilbron, Sheila Mars-Jones, Hazel Phillips and others and practised at Chambers in Garden Court and Essex Street. The obstacle, a common one I hear, to her being taken on was the opposition of the senior clerk "as there was no ladies' lavatory", therefore it was unarguably an impossibility. Segregation was evident in the Robing Rooms of the Courts and they got used to it, I was told. My mother and the others in her 'gang' were a tough lot, having been through the War in the recent past. Gray's Inn library existed in temporary huts as did most of it at the time (the late 1940s) as it had been bombed, of course. They had to support each other in obtaining recognition for more than their more obviously apparent attributes due to the unrecognised prejudice against women barristers.

jobs for the boys

1978; I was a second year law student at UCL and called for an interview for a training contract with a leading City firm (one of what we now call the Magic Circle); it had a reputation for 'blondes and Blues' but I was blonde and in the top class of my year, so I was hopeful. I was kept waiting for 2 hours, without explanation. I did have opportunity to hear a long conversation between a Receptionist and a male junior lawyer who agreed loudly that women made terrible bosses in law firms. I was taken to the interviewing partner's office; my CV was on his desk and he appeared to be looking at it for the first time; he glanced up but didn't meet my eyes, didn't take the offered hand to shake and didn't ask me to sit down. I greeted him pleasantly by name. I sat down. I waited. He said nothing for several minutes. He sighed. He spoke and I can still hear his words, 'We really only take chaps from Oxbridge who have done a vac scheme with us'; he hadn't looked up during this pithy pronouncement. I thought; another firm was notorious for asking female candidates whether they were on the pill- no and you were foolish, yes and you were a slut. Was this a similar test, was I supposed to prove myself by pushing back? No harm in trying- I tried to sell my skills in 1 minute. He wasn't listening. I was annoyed- 'so why call me for an interview?' 'No idea- maybe to balance up the figures' He hadn't looked at me all this time- he was bored and annoyed at this disruption to his day. I collected my travel expenses, and bought some punk vinyl from Notting Hill. I got a training contract from a fatherly and encouraging firm in North London; I moved firms and became a specialist- and was invited to join a different Magic Circle firm where I have been partner for almost 20 years surrounded by eccentric and brilliant egalitarians.

Planned parenthood

A colleague got pregnant not long after making partner, and so we planned ahead preparing a series of evergreen/timeless articles that could still be sent to contacts as emailers during her absence and enlisted a helpful barrister to provide topical case updates to ensure the emailers were up to date. She maintained some activity on social media, and when she returned and called up her clients, many commented that it didn't seem as if she had been away for a year.

Redefining Success

At 7 years' PQE I went back full time all guns blazing after my first maternity leave only to find all my work had been redistributed to new childless recruits. I stuck out the commute, the increasing criticism for missing targets and the suggestions that I should spend my evenings on business development for a year. Then former colleagues told me the company next door needed a patent lawyer - but part time. I gained this company as a client, went "non-practising" and quickly gained a multinational cosmetics company and famous illustrator. That was 12 years ago and I haven't looked back. The truth is, clients don't care whether my non-availability is due to a nativity play, meeting with another client or trip to the dentists - they just value me as a trusted advisor and member of the team. And their west coast customers actually thank me for being willing to do 11pm calls - not a problem when your office is in your house.

The Hard Luck Stories: all true but largely historic

I was called to the Bar in 1987. The general mood then was very different. As a pupil, I remember summoning up the courage to say something to two senior male barristers who delighted in singing 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' every time I followed my pupil master out of Court. 'A private joke' I was told, as they caught each other's eyes and giggled. I despaired. Women had to prove themselves before they were taken seriously.
29 years later, the mood is very different. There are more women at the Bar. Those of ability are recognised by all, regardless of sex. If I am supposed to post a feminist rant about how we women are all patronised and passed over within the legal profession in 2016, I shall disappoint. We have now a level playing field. We had to work harder for it. That was unfair. But the only thing that risks undoing what we have achieved is the notion that we should right historic imbalances by artificially promoting lawyers because they are female. That way we revert to the days when women at the Bar were not taken seriously - on merit.

Robing room saga

In 1981, as a pupil barrister, I was sent to the Old Bailey to make a bail application. It was my first time at the Central Criminal court and it took me a while to find a room with 'Robing Room' on the door. I went in and started changing into my court gear, A furious male Silk came over to me and asked what I thought I was doing making a feminist protest by coming into the male robing room. I pointed out that it was ignorance rather than protest and that the sign on the door had given no indication that it was 'male only.' This did not stop the tirade, which went on to the effect that I was taking a 'good man's job.' I was rescued by a young male barrister who showed me to a door with a handwritten sign taped to it saying 'Ladies' Robing Room.' It turned out that this was a former cleaning cupboard which was now in use as a robing room for female barristers and in stark contrast to the large and rather grand 'Robing Room' for men only.

No women toilets in chambers

My mother was a contemporary of Rose Heilbronn and was told she could not become a member of Chambers because they had no separate toilet for women.