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.
All stories appear in full, and all stories appear anonymously.
I was called to the Bar in 1960. I managed to find a pupillage. Finding a seat in Chambers was much more difficult. Heads of Chambers were usually willing to see me but when it came to the question of a seat in Chambers the usual response was: We'd love to have you, my dear, but we've already got a woman. And that was that!
At that time, when women were trying to make a career at the Bar, Heads of Chambers and no doubt the members considered they had already done their bit in having "A Woman" in Chambers.
Eventually I found a set where not the active head but the second member in seniority offered me a place. However when the actual Head of Chambers heard this he was not happy. It took some time and persuasion by his colleague for the offer to me to be repeated. As far as work was concerned at the time women were considered acceptable to do family work (they may know about this) and crime on the basis they could melt the (male) judge's heart when it came to sentence.
In the background as others have said there was always the voiced male concern about sharing the lavatories with women (as though they did not do so at home), sitting at their desks without their jackets and revealing their braces and telling their after court stories.
After about ten years in practice I moved from my first set of Chambers to a new set started by another woman member of the same chambers. We began with three women and three men. The fact of that number of women in one set meant that many men assumed it was a women only set.
The male concerns described above persisted even among judges until much more recently. In the 1990s although welcomed by colleagues to the Circuit Bench I recognised the same attitudes to begin with to my arrival and joint meetings.
I was admitted to the Solicitors' Roll in July 1977. When I applied for jobs I knew instinctively that I would get nowhere if firms to whom I applied knew from the outset that I was female. I always believed that if I could get as far as an interview, I would have a good chance of success. I therefore sent with all my job applications, my curriculum vitae which I had drafted in such a way as to omit any hint of my gender. I put in only the initials of my forenames, and I omitted such details as the fact that my grammar school's full title ended with the words,"For Girls". My strategy worked and I was invited to four or five interviews with various firms of Solicitors who of course all wrote to me as "Mr. ...." . I would then turn up at each interview and the person interviewing me invariably started with the words, "Oh, I didn't know you were a woman" and I would pretend not to know the reason for the misunderstanding. But, having got that far, the interview would then take place in a straightforward fashion. Two firms offered me a job which I declined for my own reasons. Eventually I accepted the third job offer because I was anxious not to be too fussy or risk never getting a job at all. The interview that led to that job, started in just the same way as ever, and I was actually told, "We don't employ women" (this, despite the Sex Discrimination Act which had come into force about 2 years earlier, making such decisions unlawful). Then I was told that South Yorkshire was a mining area and miners in particular would never tolerate a woman as their Solicitor. I retorted that the fact that I was female had never bothered the shipyard workers of Jarrow, where I had trained as an Articled Clerk.. Anyway, it was an uncomfortable interview which led to me working there but the firm turned out to be excellent and I was very happy there. There was no more mention of my gender and I got on well with the clients. I was the only female Solicitor in the town for about 2 years. I retired from the profession in 2003 and as far as I was aware, there was no more discrimination on account of my gender.
I was called to the Bar in 1994, there were many trailblazers before me but even when I joined Chambers there was the concept of 'ghetto' chambers for ethnic minorities whose fathers were not judges or solicitors. I was lucky after 200 applications and 8 interviews I was offered a pupillage. One of 2 non-white pupils and one of 3 women, I was a funded pupil receiving £1500 to support myself, One day at the regular 4pm Chambers tea ritual organised by the pupils (usually the women) the seniors and juniors would gather to talk about their day, gossip, or await news and updates from other barristers who were in exciting trials. Our most senior member of Chambers would wander downstairs to tea (after boring someone else about how Hitler could have won the war). He would precede to ask one of the 'two little brown mice' where his tea was! The joy of the Bar. I recall being so broke that I lived off tinned food and toast. There were days where I watched others tucking into lunch which I could not afford to buy whilst my stomach rumbled, I managed to secure a credit card from Midland Bank to be able to travel to Court to earn a small brief fee which might just cover the room I rented for one week at £50. It just made me more determined. 22 years on there are times when being a mom with a full time+ job leading a team in an international company raises different challenges. The battle is the dilemma between home and work. There have been circumstances where I have missed a vital part of my child's upbringing. The sting of guilt does not fade. Yet my superiors, some of whom are childless, could never understand the sacrifice I made. The intention and motivation behind the decision was usually a desperate need for equality and fear of being out sight and therefore out of mind. Now with reflection, those sacrifices were never worth it. By the time, I fought myself and them to take my rightful seat at the table, it was whipped away! There were other rewards but none that could ever compare to the lost moment in time or the ongoing unconditional love of children.
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 late Michael Sherrard suggested " why not read for the Bar? " What did he mean and how to go about it?
Joining an Inn was step one. Ignorant, I decided to inspect these inns. Research revealed Lincoln's was "chancery", i.e. Dickensian. Gray's 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.
Reading for the Bar, studying at a tutorial factory, Gibson and Weldons, and working as a clerk for a stuffy firm of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn kept me busy 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 Jones 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 then dictated model documents which impinged for their brevity and simplicity.
Getting 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!
Aftersix months as a door tenant frequenting criminal courts on the south eastern circuit and having the occasional dock brief and doing lectures 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 not take women but that Mr. Rochford the head of Chambers would see me. He was like Mr. Pickwick. He said that the Bar in its un-wisdom 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 problem 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.My skirts left to themselves.
I tried to start a Women's Bar Association in about 1967 because the Bar Council had posted a notice in all the robing rooms stating that women should not wear mini skirts! They rarely did and the whole thing was outrageous. About 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 my meeting agreed.
My practice was pretty wide, but mainly divorce and some crime.
In 1977 I was invited to be the first woman Chairman of Industrial Tribunals. In retrospect it was a mistake. I had applied for silk the previous year and should have persevered. But I remained in the job until 1991. The women's and equal rights movements caught me up and in some ways left me behind.
Of my generation there were many man unsung success stories ...Mary MacMurray, Pat Coles, Audrey Frisby, Hazel Counsell, Nina Collins (Lowry), Jean Henderson, Morgan Gibbon and many more most of whom went on the Bench or took silk or just stayed on in practice...
May the next hundred years be as joyful as despite the lack of evidence in support, the first fifty plus were.
In 1972 I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.