Lesley Wan is General Counsel for FBN Bank. Lesley is Founder & President of The Eagle Club – a global network of 180 women in senior leadership positions. She is also Founder and CEO of Through the Looking Glass, a charity which provides underprivileged children with an insight into City professions and encourages them to pursue higher education.
Katherine Ramo is an Associate in the Technology, Media, IP and Competition team at CMS. She is listed in the top global 30 Financial Times Women in Business HERoes and Future Female Leader 2018 and is the founder and chair of the CMS ENABLE Network for disability and wellbeing.
Diana Parker is a renowned divorce lawyer and partner at Withers Worldwide. She was the youngest and first female senior partner of a city firm.
An exclusive interview with Lady Justice Rafferty for First 100 Years. Dame Anne Rafferty has been a judge in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales since 2011.
Dame Bobbie Cheema-Grubb is a judge of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. She is the first Asian woman to serve as a High Court judge in the United Kingdom.
Dame Janet Smith worked as a barrister in Manchester for twenty years. She was appointed to the High Court in 1992 and then chaired the Harold Shipman Inquiry in 2001-2. In 2002, Smith became the fourth woman appointed to the Court of Appeal. In 2012, Smith chaired the Jimmy Saville Inquiry.
Baroness Heather Hallett DBE was the fifth woman to be appointed to the Court of Appeal and the first female Chair of the Bar Council. She was called to the Bar in 1972 and became a QC in 1989. In 2009 she was chosen to act as coroner in the inquest into the deaths of 52 people in the London bombings of 7 July 2005. She received a life peerage in 2019.
Linda was the first female Managing Partner of a major Scottish law firm. She is a Non-Executive Director and was awarded an OBE for services to business.
I.Stephanie Boyce was elected the deputy vice president of the Law Society in 2019. This means she will become its first BAME president when she takes up the presidency in 2021.
Baroness Ruth Deech DBE is a British academic, lawyer, bioethicist and politician, most noted for chairing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority from 1994 to 2002, and as the former Principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford. Ruth sits as a Crossbench peer in the House of Lords.
The legal drama series, The Split returned to our screens for a second series in early 2020. First aired in 2018 to popular acclaim, it features a family of female lawyers set in the world of high-value divorces. The public seem to have an appetite for expensive breakups, fueled perhaps by press reports of London being the divorce capital of the world. The reason for this reputation is linked to the inspiration for the series itself – a real-life woman, Blanche Lucas one of the first women divorce lawyers in the UK. There is a long history of real women forming the basis of the portrayal of women lawyers in literature and popular culture, whereas there are no similar fictional depictions of real male lawyers.
The cast of The Split
Writer of The Split, Abi Morgan says she was inspired by the story of Blanche Lucas. Lucas was one of the most distinguished and inventive matrimonial lawyers of her generation. She was made a partner in 1955 at a time when there were only 356 practicing women solicitors. She was one of the first divorce lawyers who gained fame for obtaining financial settlements which included maintenance, a share of the house, and a lump sum of money, as an acknowledgement of how much they may have given in a relationship to supporting a man’s career. She gained the sobriquet, of ‘Lump Sum Lucas’ for her ability to obtain substantial financial settlements for her clients, typically wives of very wealthy men. Born in Budapest in 1920, she worked as an interpreter during Second World War and won an Alexander citation for her services in helping to trace shot-down Allied airmen. She was described in her obituary in The Times as a magnificent woman, ‘an exotic femme fatale’ combining intelligence, warmth, striking looks, she was nearly six-foot tall, ‘wore high heels and big hair’ and had total fearlessness.
Blanche Lucas (1920 – 1994) was a partner at Theodore Goddard (now Addleshaw Goddard LLP) and also Vice President of the Marriage Law Reform Society.
Arguably the most famous lawyer woman in literature, is Portia in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, who disguises herself as Balthazar, a young male ‘doctor of the law’ with her maid Nerissa, as her law clerk. Shakespeare was said to have been based upon Giustina Rocca an Italian woman in 1500 who was the first woman recorded as acting as a lawyer.
Shylock and Porzia (1835) by Thomas Sully
Portia depicted in the RSC, Merchant of Venice (2019)
The name of Portia has become synonymous with women lawyers and rather tediously dragged out in the press, novels and academic papers on women in law. It’s notable because of the very few examples of actual female lawyers historically. Portia’s character has to disguise herself by wearing men’s clothing, and this can be regarded as an apt metaphor for the way that many women lawyers have had to adopt the stereotypically-male masculine professional approach to their careers and this is a point made by respondents to the Law Society’s survey whereby a lot of women admitted they only reached senior positions by becoming “men-shaped women” – putting in the hours drinking, playing golf or enduring late working nights.
Two of our Coming Portias
(Daily Graphic, 10 January 1920)
Portia is also the nickname given to Phyllida Trant, the pupil in the famous Rumpole of the Bailey books by well-known author and playwright, John Mortimer, who was also a barrister. It’s not known whether Mortimer had anyone particular in mind but writing the novels as he did in late 1970s, a time of very few women at the Bar, they would have been very visible by their rarity and so significant that practicing male lawyers themselves were contributing to the Portia trope.
Patricia Hodge played Phyllida Trant in the TV adaptation of Rumpole of the Bailey 1978
Mortimer clearly knew something of the prejudice they faced as he writes in Rumpole of the Bailey (1978) when Portia is first introduced to the protagonist, Horace Rumpole, he is heard to observe, ‘Our old clerk Albert never wanted a woman in chambers. He said there wasn’t the lavatory accommodation.’ This experience was however true and many women lawyers have told their stories in the First 100 Years project that a persistent objection raised to their employment of women was the lack of facilities for women.
It had taken forty years of campaigning, culminating in the passing of The Sex Disqualification Removal) Act 1919 to force the profession to admit women as solicitors and barristers. But resistance and hostility were rife against the perceived invasion by women of the traditionally male profession.
Hannah Margaret Cross (married name Wright) (1908– 2008), called to the Bar in 1931, was the first woman member of The Bar Council. She only managed to obtain pupillage by promising to use the public toilets in Lincoln’s Inn.
Aside from the very successful Rumpole series, there had been a notable earlier and very popular television series Justice, which ran from 1969 – 1974 which starred Margaret Lockwood in the lead character role of Harriet Peterson, a barrister from the north of England. At that time there were only 147 women practicing barristers, some 6%. The portrayal of Harriet Peterson is reputedly based on Rose Heilbron, the first woman to achieve a first class honours degree in law at the University of Liverpool, the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn, one of the first two women to be appointed King’s Counsel in England, the first woman to lead in a murder trial, defending a gangster in the notorious Cameo Cinema case the first woman recorder (part-time circuit judge) and the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey
Dame Rose Heilbron QC, DBE (1914–2005), barrister and judge, a woman of many legal firsts
In the 1950s, Heilbron had become a household name was described in her guardian obituary as ‘a queen to her home city’ of Liverpool. Her successful criminal practice career was followed avidly in the press and so it’s not surprising that it could be fertile ground for a legal drama series. Cherie Blair CBE QC cites Harriet Peterson, (amongst other women lawyers) as one of her career inspirations.
Margaret Lockwood starring as Harriet Peterson in the television drama Justice
(1969 – 1974)
A decade later, saw another woman barrister protagonist in the television series, Blind Justice in 1988 co-devised by Helena Kennedy and playwright Peter Flannery, based on Kennedy’s true-life legal experiences as a radical criminal barrister. The series features the cases of a group of radical barristers concerning human rights, race and politic issues and the conflict with the then Thatcher government and legal establishment of the 1980s.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, barrister, author, lecturer, broadcaster and journalist
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC was born in 1950, brought up and educated in working-class Glasgow, and became a leading figure at the criminal bar dealing with many high-profile cases involving civil liberties. She became Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, after the 1997 general election, using her platform to continue to hold government and authority to account. She has written from the outset of her career on the lack of opportunities for women lawyers to progress in their careers, on the structural inequalities of the legal system for women and on broader civil liberties and human rights issues.
Jane Lapotaire as Katherine Hughes in Blind Justice (1988)
These dramas often show the women to have lives beyond the law, and a more direct representation of the barriers they face in the still male-dominated legal world. In a profession where women have struggled for equality of opportunity and career promotion to the top posts, to show high-achieving women lawyers in popular television series creates welcome visibility, but more potent is when the characters are based on real-life experiences.
First 100 Years a unique historical digital archive and national campaign to celebrate the stories about women who have shaped the legal profession since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for female lawyers to practice. Our website has a unique timeline and there is more information in our podcasts series and book FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law
We welcome more stories about past and present women in law – contact the project through the website.
Written by Lucinda Acland, Project Team Member, co-author of FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law and host of the First 100 Years Podcast.
© Jamie Williamson for First 100 Year’s #100Faces100Years in 2019.
Baroness Hale retired in early 2020 as the United Kingdom’s most senior judge. She was educated at Richmond High School for Girls in North Yorkshire and Girton College, Cambridge (where she is now Visitor) and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 1969. She taught Law at Manchester University for 18 years, specialising in family and social welfare law, and also practised for a while at the Manchester Bar.
In 1984 she became the first woman to serve on the Law Commission, a statutory body which promotes the reform of the law. There she led the work which resulted (among others) in the Children Act 1989 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. She was also a founder member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and chair of its Code of Practice Committee from 1990 to 1994. In 1994, she was appointed a Judge of the Family Division of the High Court and promoted to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales in 1999. In 2004 she became the first, and sadly the only, woman ‘Lord of Appeal in Ordinary’ in the House of Lords, which was then the top court for the whole United Kingdom. In 2009, she transferred with the other ‘Law Lords’ to become a Justice of the newly established Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. She became Deputy President of the Court in 2013 and its President in 2017.
Baroness Hale has always taken a great interest in equality law, speaking up for increasing diversity in the legal profession and in the judiciary and played a key role in the centenary celebrations in 2019 alongside First 100 Years. Great strides have been made in the last two decades but there is still a great deal of work to be done. Baroness Hale is the Patron for the Next 100 Years and is delighted to support the campaign.
You can watch our biographical film about Baroness Hale here.
The First 100 Years campaign inspired me to research the history of women in the legal profession for my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), the equivalent of half an A level. I discovered the First 100 Years campaign after a summer placement at a London Law Firm and subsequently won a school history competition when I used this knowledge to submit an essay on Helena Normanton, who was the first woman to be admitted into the Middle Temple. Although Normanton is not well known, her advocacy of equal pay, equal rights and female independence remain key issues today.
The lack of awareness about the first women in law as well as the upcoming centenary of the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act in December encouraged me to focus my EPQ on this topic. I spent a week studying primary resources in the archives of the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics. In order to gain an insight into views of the time, I read the Law Society Journal and Solicitors Journal at The Law Society Library. At ‘The Road to 1919’ symposium, at the Houses of Parliament, I discussed my EPQ with current researchers, including Judith Bourne a lecturer and leading author on Normanton. Following my research, I wrote a 5,000-word dissertation with the following dissertation title: To what extent was the admission of female lawyers into the UK law profession in 1919, under the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act, caused by the women’s suffrage movement?
My research explored the three main causes for the passing of the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act in December 1919. These causes were the women’s suffrage movement, the social and political context and the campaign by aspiring female lawyers, particularly the role of Helena Normanton and Ivy Williams.
At the end of my research I came to the conclusion that the women’s suffrage movement was not the lone cause for the passing of the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act in 1919. The suffrage movement was an important context for the Act as the suffrage movement demonstrated the need for equality. The passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 set the tone for the changes to come, arguably, anticipating the passing of the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act in 1919. Nevertheless, the persistent campaigning of aspiring female lawyers and certain male MPs helped to maintain the publicity for the cause within the press and Parliament. Although, the Emancipation Act was the final push towards the passing of the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act, I concluded that the sustained movement of aspiring female lawyers was a more significant cause as it helped accelerate the movement. Without the aspiring female lawyer’s desire to challenge public opinion and push open the legal profession to women the British Government would not have been pressured to pass the Sexual Disqualification (removal) Act only a year after the Representation of the People Act.
Written by Emma Barker. Emma received an A* in her EPQ for her full dissertation and begins her degree in French and History at the University of Exeter in September 2019.
In the year that marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers, Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The First 100 Years project says the “rigid and inflexible structures” in many law firms are the main obstacles stopping women’s progress to senior positions.
She says that with the profession dragging its heels in promoting true equality, that it’s time for quotas to ensure more women are represented at equity partner level and in senior management.
“One hundred years ago, the battle was for participation in our legal system,” says Dana. “That battle has been won, with more women than men now entering the profession. What we now need is to see equal numbers of men and women in leadership positions, receiving the same remuneration. Women are still not sufficiently represented at equity level, amongst QCs or in the judiciary and when they are, they are not paid as much as their male counterparts. We should be demanding equal representation and pay.
“Much of the problem is structural. I would like to see an end to the ‘salaried partner’ position that is so often where senior women find themselves – promoted to partner but without the voting power conferred by being in the equity, giving firms the cover of higher female partner numbers. When women are not adequately represented at the top things do not change.”
Dana argues that, though controversial, the need for quotas for the number of women at both equity partner and management level is becoming clear as years of talking about the need for diversity have failed to drive sufficient change. She also argues for more creativity and flexibility to accommodate both women and men with caring responsibilities.
She says, “I have come to the belief that quotas are necessary. Self-regulation doesn’t work and will only take us so far. What we have learnt from history is that change sometimes needs to be forced. There are many firms and chambers out there who recognise the importance of diversity but are hampered by industrial levels of inflexibility. The reality is that our workplaces can be incredibly rigid, inflexible and artificial places that don’t reflect our real lives. We need to start from the top, unravelling the practices and structures that do not work for women and increasingly, many men. We need to interrogate working conditions to see if they are fit for purpose rather than the expectation being that women should fit into them.”
The First 100 Years ¬is a ground-breaking project charting the journey of women in the legal profession. This year, its exhibition charting the key milestones throughout the last 100 years of women in law, which until this month was housed at the Supreme Court, tours the country. It starts this month in Leeds where it is displayed at Leeds University’s Faculty of Law until 25th February when it will move to Worcester University followed by Wolverhampton University at the end of April.
The project was founded on the basis that the profession must understand the historical context of how we got to where we are now if we want to remove the barriers to women’s progress. The stories of those legal pioneers are vital in providing a solid, positive platform for the future.
For many years, equal numbers of women and men have been joining the legal profession but female representation at the top, whether that is in the judiciary, amongst QCs or at equity level in private practice still lags significantly behind.
Baroness Butler-Sloss was the first woman to sit on the Court of Appeal and thus the first female Lord Justice of Appeal. She was the highest-ranking female judge in the United Kingdom until 2004. Called to the Bar in 1955, she was also the fourth woman ever to be appointed a High Court judge, in 1979.
Victoria McCloud is a British judge. She is the most senior public figure to have transitioned from male to female. In 2010 she became a Queen’s Bench Master, the youngest person ever and only the second woman.
Taking Stock: Progress and Next Steps
In this final episode of the series, we discuss what has been learnt by uncovering the stories of women in law and the light it sheds on current barriers to progress for women. The experience of women lawyers in public leadership roles, and what diversity means in achieving full equality of opportunity in the legal profession and the steps required for this to be achieved.
Brenda Hale, Rt Hon. Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE PC, President of the Supreme Court
Patricia Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal PC QC, Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations
Dana Denis-Smith, journalist, lawyer and CEO of Obelisk Support and founder of First
100 years project.
Sarah Leigh, a pioneering clinical negligence lawyer, co-founded Leigh Day in 1987. She was also awarded an OBE for her contribution to the Woolf Inquiry into access to justice and reducing the cost of medical negligence litigation.
An interview with Dame Janet Gaymer, DBE, QC, who most recently served as a Civil Service Commissioner and Commissioner for Public Appointments from 2006 to 2010. She was previously senior partner of Simmons & Simmons, Chair of the Employment Tribunal System Taskforce and a member of the Employment Tribunals Service Steering Board.
Sarah Falk was the first woman to be appointed to the High Court straight from private practice, and one of only three solicitors to do so. She was previously a partner at Freshfields.
Major General Susan Ridge, CB is a senior British Army officer and lawyer. From September 2015 until July 2019, she was Director General of the Army Legal Services Branch (DGALS). She is the first woman to hold the rank of major general in the British Army and the first to hold non-honorary general officer rank since World War II.
Baroness Chakrabarti was the Director of Liberty from 2003 to 2016. In August 2016, Chakrabarti was made a life peer and was appointed Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales in October 2016. After studying Law at the London School of Economics, Chakrabarti was called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1994. In 1996, she started working as a barrister for the Home Office.
The Leaky Pipeline
This a special live recorded episode of the podcast. To set the scene for this 9th episode we’ve reached the decade of the 2000’s. This first decade of the new millennium saw global financial instability and the credit crunch which sent profound shockwaves through the UK economy, and resulted in many redundancies in the legal sector. This was coupled with global technological advances giving rise to a rapid growth in online businesses and faster global communications and in the workplace the prevalence of laptops, mobile phones ushered in the greater capability for remote working. Turning to the progress of women in law in the 2000’s a few numbers. In 2002 women made up 63% of entrants studying law and 63% of trainee solicitors. These numbers reflected the steady increase of women keen to become lawyers over the recent decades. At the practitioner level, women made up just over 36% of practicing solicitors, rising to around 45% by the end of the decade, and women with BAME backgrounds made up just over 13%.
Funke Abimbola is a multi-award winning lawyer, business leader, public speaker, TV contributor, diversity leader, patron and board member.
Christina Blacklaws is Chair, NED, speaker, consultant, Immediate Past President of the Law Society. Chair of Lawtech Delivery Panel 5th woman President of The Law Society.
Sally Boyle is the International Head of Human Capital Management, Goldman Sachs.
Professor Jo Delahunty QC is a barrister at 4 Paper Buildings, Recorder of the Southern-Eastern Circuit and a Bencher at Middle Temple. She’s also Gresham Professor at Law.
Widening the Pool
The 1990’s saw the end of the economic boom and in the recession that followed career prospects in the legal sector became more uncertain for solicitors, both at the junior and senior end. Throughout the decade women began to play a greater role in public life.
In 1994 the Church of England took the landmark decision to ordain women priests and in Parliament 101 Labour women MPs were elected in a landslide Labour victory in 1997. It was a decade which saw women and BAME legal organisations pushing for reform within the legal profession for promotion at the Bar and the judiciary. At the start of this decade 23% of solicitors holding practicing certificates were women, and 17.5% are practicing barrister. Women were continuing to make progress but slowly, and women and BAME lawyers were overrepresented in small high street practices and legal aid. Whereas white men from higher socio-economic backgrounds were over-represented in the highest paid jobs in large city firms, at the Bar and judiciary. A profile which still persists in large part today.
Millicent Grant is the 2017/18 past President of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives – CILEx and 2017 Black Solicitor’s Network Lawyer of the Year. She has worked in the private, corporate in-house and public sector, and is currently now working as a consultant.
Rachel Spearing is a barrister at Sergeants’ Inn who’s civil and criminal practice has a particular emphasis on business crime, financial and regulatory and disciplinary law. She is a Fellow at Bond University in Australia and The Singapore Academy of Law. She is also the founder of the Bar Wellness Initiative, which aims to address and support the challenges facing the legal profession.
Baljit Ubhey is Director of Prosecution Policy and Inclusion of the CPS and leads a policy team within the CPS operations directorate whilst leading on equality and inclusion across the service.
Madeleine Heggs set up her own legal practice over 60 years ago. Brought up by a single mother during the war after her father was killed, Madeleine went to a school which “knew nothing about careers”, and girls were expected to become a secretary, or if you were very bright, a teacher. She was the first from her school to ever study law, after her father’s old solicitor offered her articles. The only girl at her law school, an experience which she describes as “lonely”, Madeleine later worked for Bedford Lowe.
An exclusive interview with Anita Jewitt, a partner in the London office of Irwin Mitchell specialising in medical negligence. Anita was promoted to partner whilst on maternity leave. In 2017, Anita won the First 100 Years’ Inspirational Women in Law Award.
Cecilia Xu Lindsey is the first female Chinese national to be issued with a practising certificate to practise in the independent Bar of England and Wales.
Cecilia Xu Lindsey joins First 100 Years for a discussion about her life and career. According to the Bar Council’s records, Cecilia is the first female Chinese national (including people from Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland of China) who was issued with a practising certificate to practise in the independent Bar of England and Wales. She practises at 9 Stone Buildings Barristers’ Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn in London.
She is well respected in Commercial Law, Company Law, Banking Law & Financial Services and Dispute
Resolution, and is often instructed by international lawyers and clients for advice on English law and
representation in English courts and international arbitrations.
Cecilia Xu Lindsey was born and raised in China. She received primary education from her parents and
then in state schools in China. She studied her first degree, BA (Hons) in International Trade in the early 1990s, when China opened to the world and embarked on series of reforms in its social, legal, banking, accounting and industrial systems. She came to the UK to study her higher degree in 1997 and achieved an LLM in International Commercial Law at the University of Nottingham in 1998.
She continued to read English law and completed the Bar Vocational Course in London, and was called
to the Bar in 2012, having forged a career in commerce and international development in both China and
the UK for over ten years and served over eight years in City law firms in London before joining the
independent Bar of England and Wales in 2014. She publishes widely and gives talks on English legal
topics. She also accepts appointments as Arbitrator for international arbitrations. At the 20th anniversary of her graduation at the University of Nottingham, in 2018, she was awarded the “Alumni Laureate Award – the Special Excellence Award” by the University for her professional achievement as being the first female Chinese national to be issued with a practising certificate to practise in the independent Bar of England and Wales.
Cecilia Xu Lindsey brings unique contribution to the English Bar. She also has the honour of regularly
welcoming visiting delegations from overseas particularly the Far East for professional cooperation and
exchange. She brings distinctive view and advice on China-related matters. With the economic cooperation and cultural exchange between the UK and China becoming more frequent, her contribution
in promoting cross jurisdictional exchange and development on Rule of Law among legal professions are
greatly reciprocated in but not limited to the UK.
Why First 100 Years is Important
Cecilia Xu Lindsey: “The First 100 Years reminds us of how our societies have come through. This
celebration highlights the achievement particularly in equality and inclusivity among the legal professions in the UK. Whilst the UK maintains as the leader in promoting equality worldwide, we must remind ourselves that there are women elsewhere who are still confronted with inequality because of their gender. I am extremely honoured to take part in the First 100 Years. I am also excited to continue to inspire others, as well as being inspired by others including Lady Arden and Dame Linda Dobbs.”
Rising to the Top
The 1980s were characterised by the premiership of Margaret Thatcher as the UK’s first woman Prime Minister. It was one which saw the Falkland’s War in 1982, prolonged and bitter trade union strikes, the right to buy policy on state home ownership, the privatization of nationalised industries and the deregulation of the financial markets. It was also a decade where other women started to be visible in leadership in the public arena. For example, in the 1980’s Baroness Janet Young was the first woman leader in the House of Lords, and Mary Donaldson was elected the first woman Lord Mayor of London.
In the legal sector a few women were achieving senior positions in law firms and great visibility as leaders. But there was little progress for women at the Bar.
Diana Good was a litigation investigations lawyer at Linklaters LLP for 30 years. Diana was also a part-time judge sitting in the criminal courts for 11 years. She chose to retire from Linklaters as a senior partner in 2008, in order to work in international development with a focus of governance and access to both justice and education. She was a founder commissioner with the UK Aid watchdog – the independent commission for aid impact and is now a specialist advisor to the International Development Committee in the House of Commons. She has also worked in access to justice and education in London as the Chair of the Mary Ward Settlement.
Dorothy Livingston has 37 years’ experience working in financial and banking law, EU and competition law. She was a partner at Herbert Smith from 1980 – 2008, a founder of the firm’s finance division and its competition regulatory and trade department. And is now a consultant and lead of Herbert Smith Freehills Brexit focus group, and Chairman of the Financial Law Committee of the City of London Law Society. It was her photograph, as the lone woman partner in a group photograph in 1982 that was an inspiration for the First 100 Years project.
Erika Rackley is Professor in Law at University of Kent. Erika’s research covers law, gender and feminism with a focus on judicial diversity, the nature of judging and feminist legal history. As well as her own published works, she has co-led large collaborative projects such as the Feminist Judgement’s Project and the Woman’s Legal Landmarks Project, published earlier this year in 2019.
Jacquelyn MacLennan is a Partner at White & Case and advises on issues related to corporate supply chain compliance, disclosure requirements, and Business & Human Rights issues. Jacquelyn acted on the European Court of Justice case that saw same sex marriages recognised across the European Union.
Dame Rosalyn Higgins GBE QC is a former President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). She was the first female judge elected to the ICJ, and was elected President in 2006, also the first female elected.
Following her education, Higgins was a practising barrister, and became a QC in 1986, and is a bencher of the Inner Temple. She served on the UN Human Rights Committee for 14 years. She resigned from the Human Rights Committee when she was elected to the International Court of Justice on 12 July 1995.
Sex Discrimination Act: Equality in name?
Discussing discrimination and the impact of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. What was the experience of discrimination in the professions? To what extent did things change following the passing of the Act? Did the earlier Equal Pay Act 1970 have an impact for women trying to forge a career in law?
Harini Iyengar – barrister at 11 KBW Chambers, Bencher at Inner Temple, candidate for the Women’s Equality Party for the London-wide list for the Greater London Assembly elections in May 2020, and author of ‘A practical guide to the law of gender pay gap reporting.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC – barrister and Labour peer, one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers and public figures. She’s a regular broadcaster, journalist, author and lecturer, and Director of the Institute of the International Bar Association.
Nicola Rabson – global head of Linklaters employment and incentives group, Timewise power part-time award winner, and named in the first Financial Times leading executive Ally for LGBT back in 2014.
The winning logo designed by University of Reading student, Charmaine Chong, to celebrate the centenary of women in law at the University of Reading.
The University of Reading invited students to a meeting last year to plan how they wanted to celebrate the centenary of women in law this year. A number of the students have been involved in activities so far in 2019 (they have run their own social media campaign via the University of Reading Law Society Instagram account, they have organised speakers and been involved in outreach with local secondary schools) – there is more to come. Charmaine Chong helped by designing a 100 Years logo which the University are using on their promotional materials and have turned into a button badge, and a red and white version to make into a lanyard.
Charmaine Chong, a final year Law Student says the following:
“It all started with my dissertation topic. I chose to write about women in the judiciary, as it has always been a topic of interest for me ever since I was a fresher. Inspired by Baroness Hale of Richmond during A levels, I decided to study law to contribute in my own way towards empowering more women to enter the legal profession. I find it my calling to be involved in advocating for women’s rights, being born on International Women’s Day.
The experience of designing the logo for the celebration of 100 years of women in the legal profession has been an amazing learning experience, and the highlight of my final year amidst assignments, deadlines, and studies. My first streak of inspiration came when I attended the meeting for the project planned by the university. I wanted to create something meaningful for this milestone and ended up with a barrister fox mascot, Lexi Foxhill. “Lex” being the Latin word for law, and Foxhill being the name of the university’s Law School, the initial idea was well received by my peers and teachers. After further discussion, we decided to create a logo representing our Law School’s events.
I used the embodiment of Lady Justice, to pay tribute to the grace, femininity and strength of women in the legal profession over these 100 years, and many more to come. To me, Lady Justice need not be a barrister, solicitor, or a judge. She is a guiding figure, inspiring women to stride forward with strength, like the sword held by Lady Justice, and achieve their dreams with elegance and grace. While she is not in the legal profession, I actually was inspired by my mother’s resilient nature in working her way up at her job. Incorporating the university’s colours from the coat of arms, and its Lancaster rose, I thought hard to convey all the meaning and love behind the idea in a simple logo which would truly be able to represent the campaign.
Like the silhouette of Lady Justice within the figure of number ‘100’, I hope that women in the legal profession will be able to spread positivity and empowerment across the world, and make the following 100 years a greater legacy of women in law.”
We always enjoy seeing all the work students are doing to mark the centenary of women in law this year. Has your University done something special to mark this important year? We want to know! Email us on [email protected] or contact us here.
An exclusive interview with Keily Blair, the first winner of the Inspirational Women in Law Awards organised by Spark21 in 2016.
Keily is Director, Co-Lead of Contentious Data Protection Strategy, Legal and Compliance Services at PwC United Kingdom.
My Lord becomes My Lady
The 1960’s was a time of profound social change. The abolition of capital punishment, legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, the introduction of the contraceptive pill, and the Married Women’s Property Act affected women’s rights in everyday life. More girls than ever before went on to higher education and in 1962 there were over 26,000 women at university. In this programme, we discuss Dame Elizabeth Lane, England and Wales’ first woman High Court judge; women in the judiciary and public office; and the role of networks, leadership and flexible working.
Frances Burton – Retired barrister and judge and Senior Lecturer in Law at Buckingham
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE – The first female President of the Family
Division of the High Court, member of the House of Lords and Chair of a number of public inquiries.
Dame Janet Gaymer DBE QC (Hon) – The first woman senior partner of international
City firm Simmons & Simmons, former Commissioner for Public Appointments and until recently non-executive Director of the House of Commons Commission and Chair of its Administration Audit and Risk Assurance Committee.
Susan Roscoe – Partner at Linklaters specialising in contentious restructuring and insolvency, asset recovery and tax litigation.
A Hostile Culture
Join host Lucinda Acland and guests for a discussion of the 1950s, characterised by a post-war growing economy and technological advances.
After the war, working women either returned to the home or were squeezed back into lower paid positions. Women’s status overall declined and the gender wage gap increased. The culture of the time is described as ‘mostly hostile’ towards women. How did things change and how were these changes resisted?
Dr Helen Glew, Senior Lecturer in History at University of Westminster @HelenGlew
Hilary Heilbron QC, barrister at Brick Court Chambers and international arbitrator
Nemone Lethbridge, barrister and writer
María Ascensión Chirivella Marín (1893 – 1980) was the first woman admitted to practise law in Spain in January 1922.
In Spain, judges are not appointed, they are required to take an exam and women were not allowed to participate in these exams until 1961. The first Judge to pass the exam was Concepción Carmen Venero who became the first woman judge in Spain – a Minor’s Court – in February 1971; two years later Mª Belen del Valle Díaz passed the exam to be a prosecutor attorney.
Currently, there are 11 women in the Supreme Court, 29 women in the Spanish Audiencia Nacional and 6 women have been judges in the Constitutional Court, at the present moment Encarnación Roca and Maria Luisa Balaguer.
Women judges represent the 52.7% of the judges in Spain but only 13% are in the highest courts.
Written by Diana Carrillo, Spanish practising lawyer
On Thursday 21st March, First 100 Years was proud to sponsor 10 students to attend the Association of Women Judges’ event ‘Celebrating the contribution of great women judges to our legal life’ at the Supreme Court. It was an inspiring evening to learn about the lives and careers of Lady Hale, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Justice Teresa Doherty CBE. Here are the thoughts of some of those students who came along.
“Year 2019 marks 100 years since women began to practice law as a profession. We are now able to refer to women judges as ‘My Lady’ and to women lawyers as ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Ms’. But this was not the way in 1919 and the early years of ‘women in law’. Women were referred to as ‘My Lord’ and ‘Mr’ regardless of their gender. During the ‘Women in Law’ talk organised by UK Association of Women Judges, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss highlighted that things had to change and asked, ‘’Did I really have to be called ‘Lord Justice’?’’. She spoke about Lady Brenda Hale appearing in a newspaper article in the United Stated at that time stating that ‘the title was preposterous’. It was them who first addressed this issue and we now have them to thank for this very much needed change.
During the event, a lot of cases in which women faced discrimination were discussed. Personally, I was most impressed by the case mentioned by Justice Teresa Doherty, she spoke about the time when she was called to help 6 women, including an 8.5months pregnant woman, who were arrested by a ‘riot squad’ due to ‘playing an illegal game’. The truth was the women were playing cards at the back of their house. The women stated they will plead guilty, but Justice Doherty stated, ‘No, you will not.’ She then managed to win the case in the court and the 6 women were released.”
Klaudia Otoka, University of Surrey Law Student
“Although, the event was filled with excellent thoughts, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss has pointed out one very important thing that we tend to overlook nowadays. She explained that feminism has become very complex and tends to rely on many long reasonings for its existence, however, there is one simple reason we have behind feminism. Simply speaking our population is made of both women and men. Therefore, we have a right to be judged by both women and men, as well as represented in many fields by women and men. It is that simple.
I think it is a great clarification of such a complex subject and if we simplify many issues this way, and in this case when talking about feminism, more men will be likely to see the clear logic behind our actions.”
“Controversially, Baroness Butler-Sloss did not describe herself as a feminist. This, in my opinion, is because the word is subjective. Lady Hale quite proudly said “I have never hesitated to call myself a feminist… women are, and should be, equal to men… everybody in this room should be a feminist. Including you, Baroness Butler-Sloss!”
I regret that I had not heard of Justice Doherty prior to the event, as she has done some
extraordinary work for human and women’s rights around the world. She spoke of the abuse that women encountered in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone. When asked who inspires her, she spoke of living in Northern Ireland during the troubles and said that “The women I admire and want to protect are those working in factories and supporting their families.”
I studied law because I wanted to make a real difference to people’s lives and represent those who were not able to speak up for themselves. As a trainee solicitor, it has become easy to assume that I am not able to make a real difference, and to feel distanced from the prominent figures who have influenced this profession. However, having had the opportunity to see Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lady Hale and Justice Teresa Doherty in person, and to hear about the struggles that they faced in their own careers, I feel more motivated than ever. Whoever said “never meet your heroes” clearly had not met these three women.”
“Something that really struck me from the talk was the importance that all three judges placed upon inter-women relationships and networks as contributing to their greatest successes. Lady Hale said that something that the second woman in any profession realised “is how much she owed to the first”, and thanked Baroness Butler-Sloss (the first woman in the Court of Appeal to her second) for breaking the barriers which allowed her to take her place there. The support that they had offered each other as Court of Appeal judges was clearly palpable. Teresa Doherty further cited as her inspiration for her tireless work against discrimination was the women themselves. There are so many forces in society which seek to pit women against each other and make them rivals, and I was really struck how the three truly impressive women demonstrated how when women work together how powerful they can be.” Imogen Sadler
“The lecture was incredibly insightful and engaging. I enjoyed hearing from three accomplished women judges who demonstrated a lifelong passion for the law and ensuring it is upheld. Each of them – Lady Hale, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Justice Teresa Doherty – offered a unique perspective into what is indubitably difficult work. I enjoyed listening to Justice Doherty describe in perfect detail some of the work she has carried out in Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea, in particular a story about villagers who had been arrested for playing cards when there was no such prohibition in place. I was also honoured to meet and speak to Lady Hale who was every bit as a kind, knowledgeable and engaging as in many of her judgments I have read as an undergraduate. When speaking on being a woman in a male dominated field of work, Lady Hale responded that there were three options: ‘to emulate a man, to stick to a low profile as a woman, or to visibly be a woman and be all right.’
I am most thankful to The First 100 Years project and the Association of Women Judges for the opportunity to attend – it was a great evening.”
We are always looking to involve students in the project, so please email us on [email protected] to register your interest in hearing about future events.
Sitting in Judgment: Women Magistrates and Jurors
Join host Lucinda Acland and guests for a discussion of the 1940s, the impact of World War Two in the
perception of women in the world of work and for women in the legal profession, the progress and involvement of women in legal academia, rising through the ranks of the Bar and appointments to the judiciary.
Dr Kevin Crosby is a Lecturer in Law at Newcastle University. Dr Crosby’s main research interest is the history of jury trial, primarily in England and Wales, and ways in which that history can be used to critique contemporary practices of courtroom governance. @_Kevin_Crosby_
Dr Anne Logan is Senior Lecturer in Social History at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. Dr Logan is also Director of Studies for Criminal Justice and Criminology BA. @AnneFHLoganKent
Find us on social media @First100Years and at www.first100years.org.uk
In October 2004, Dame Linda Dobbs DBE became the first non-white high court judge in the UK, having been appointed a Deputy High Court Judge in 2003. She joins First 100 Years for a discussion about her life and career.
Clare Montgomery QC joined First 100 Years for a discussion about her life and career.
In 2016 Chambers & Partners described Clare Montgomery as ‘the most formidable member of the bar’. She is a highly respected barrister specialising in criminal, regulatory and fraud law, known for her work on legally and factually complex cases.
Professor Sara Chandler QC (Hon) is the first woman to be elected as President of the Federation of European Bar Associations.
Professor Sara Chandler QC (Hon) is a solicitor and Professor of Clinical Legal Education and works in the Legal Advice Clinic of the London South Bank University where she trains and supervises law students to give free legal advice and assistance to members of the public.
Her route to becoming a solicitor was after fighting for the human rights of political prisoners in Chile, and then working with the refugees who arrived from Chile after the military coup of General Pinochet in September 1973. She worked for 10 years as a Law Centre welfare rights caseworker and tribunal representative, and after studying law in evening classes, qualified as a solicitor in 1995 at the age of 49, and mother of two children. With a strong commitment to human rights, equality and the representation of others, she was elected President of South London Law Society in 2002 and President of the Westminster & Holborn Law Society in 2006. She was elected to represent voluntary sector solicitors on the Council of the Law Society of England & Wales in 2002, and chaired the Law Society’s Human Rights Committee (2011-2014) and the Housing Law Committee (2006-2010.
In 2018 she was elected Chair of the Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She was invited to participate in the Federation of European Bar Associations (www.fbe.org) in 2006, and became President of the Human Rights Commission in 2008. The Federation was an organisation with all male platforms in congresses, and all the representatives were men. Then in 2015 she was elected as the first women ever to the Presidency of the FBE as the 2nd Vice President. She became President in 2017, the year that the FBE celebrated 25 years as a Federation. It was a significant first, and following that, the Presidency has two female lawyers who will be Presidents in 2019, and 2020. Female lawyers in European bar associations and local law societies will always be valued for the positive contribution that they make to the leadership of the international legal community.
In 2016, Sara was honoured for her work in pro bono, human rights and pioneering clinical legal education, with then title of Honorary Queen’s Counsel.
The ‘Firsts’: Gaining a Foothold
Join host Lucinda Acland and guests for a discussion of the first few pioneering female lawyers, and their experiences during the early years of women being allowed to practice law.
Elizabeth Cruickshank – Former solicitor in London, now writer about the lives and experiences of women solicitors, especially those who qualified between 1922 and 1962. She was the founding editor of Link, the magazine of the AWS, and Chairwoman of AWS in 2004-5. Currently she is writing a biography of Carrie Morrison, the first English woman to qualify.
Dr Judith Bourne – Senior Lecturer at St. Mary’s University and founder of First Women Lawyers in Great Britain and the Empire Symposia. She has written a biography of Helena Normanton, one of the first female barristers in the UK.
Katie Broomfield – Postgraduate researcher in the History Department at Royal Holloway, University of London, researching the opening of the legal profession to women in 1919. She is a contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the creator of the exhibition Celebrating the Centenary of Women Lawyers.
Find us on social media @First100Years and at www.first100years.org.uk
An exclusive interview with Lady Arden for the First 100 Years project. Lady Arden joined the Supreme Court as its third female judge on 1st October 2018 and two days later history was made when the Court sat with a female majority for the first time.
In 1993, Mary Arden was the first woman appointed to the Chancery Division of the High Court. She then went on to become a Court of Appeal judge in 2000 until her appointment to the Supreme Court.
An exclusive interview with Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, barrister, broadcaster and campaigner. As one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers, she has spent her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights.
An exclusive interview with Cherie Booth QC for First 100 Years. Booth is a leading British barrister specialising in arbitration, mediation, public law, human rights, employment law and European Community law. She is a noted speaker on human rights.
The First 100 Years, the ground-breaking project charting the journey of women in the legal profession, has launched its first podcast in a series of ten exploring the history and achievements of women in law, decade by decade.
The series features pioneering female lawyers including Baroness Butler-Sloss, Helena Kennedy QC and Dame Janet Gaymer alongside leading historians and academics from institutions such as St Mary’s University, Newcastle University and the Parliamentary Archives.
Released on the 17th of every month each podcast covers a decade, with discussions that take the listener through the 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers, up to the present day. They will look at the women who championed the cause of female lawyers, discussing key themes of gender stereotyping, work/ life balance and diversity as well as the historical and social context in which women lawyers worked.
Episode one – ‘A sacred year or a dead letter?’ covering 1919 – 1929 charts the campaign for women to join the legal profession, the court challenge brought against The Law Society by aspiring female lawyers, the women who studied and worked in the law despite being barred from the profession and the passing of the historical Act that allowed women to practice for the first time.
Future episodes will look at the first women to practice the law, at the impact of World War Two on the perception of women’s work and the struggle for progression up the ranks of the judiciary in the 60s and 70s.
The podcast series is presented by Lucinda Acland and supported by Goldman Sachs and Linklaters. Qualified lawyer Lucinda has been a volunteer for First 100 Years since November 2015.
Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The First 100 Years and CEO of Obelisk Support, says: “The achievements of female lawyers over the past century are inspiring. Hearing the stories of those who fought for the right to work in the law and later, the women who fought against discrimination and hostility to rise to the top of the profession, is compelling listening.
“As we celebrate the centenary of the first women being able to practise the law, these discussions shine a light on this proud history. They serve as a reminder to the profession about how far we have come, the legacy of those pioneers and what more needs to be done to tackle inequality.”
Sacred Year or Dead Letter?
The first in the series, this podcast discusses the decade from 1919-1929. Join host Lucinda Acland and guests for a discussion of the fight that led up to the legal change in 1919. What impacted the law, and what was its impact? How did the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 come to be passed, who were its biggest champions and why? Did the law change the culture of the profession? What was its immediate impact?
Dr Mari Takayanagi: Archivist and Historian, Champion of First 100 Years. Mari is Senior Archivist at the Parliamentary Archives and historian, with a particular interest in women and & Parliament in the early 20th Century.
Professor Rosemary Auchmuty: Professor of Feminist Legal Studies at the University of Reading. Co-leader of the Women’s Legal Landmarks project which is looking at the 2019 centenary mostly through the tradition of centuries of legislation that disempowered/ empowered women. Author of “Whatever happened to Miss Bebb? Bebb v The Law Society and women’s legal history.” She should be able to talk about the run up to the Act but also the first generation of women in law – how they found being in the profession.
Alex Giles: Former lawyer, librarian at City University and a playwright. He wrote “The Disappearance of Miss Bebb”, a play about the life of Gwyneth Bebb.
Find us on social media @First100Years and at www.first100years.org.uk
First 100 Years is launching a series of 10 podcasts, one per month, following the course of the 100 years of women in law.
In collaboration with Goldman Sachs and Linklaters, this series of ten podcasts charts the history of women in the legal professions. Progressing decade-by-decade, the podcasts will be 45-minute discussions between legal pioneers, historians, academics and legal practitioners based on key themes, including gender stereotypes, the work/life balance and diversity.
The podcast series is presented by Lucinda Acland. Lucinda has been a volunteer for First 100 Years since November 2015 and is a qualified lawyer. She has experience of recording voice programmes with the First 100 Years project, at the University of Law and at Obelisk Support.
Slaughter & May’s Frances Murphy was one of the most formidable corporate lawyers in the City. As a woman, she carved a reputation for excellence at a time there were few women in her field. She passed away on 25 May 2016, after we filmed her for our project celebrating the lives of women in law.
A compilation of a few of our recent interviews that will be released soon!
Helen Mountfield QC is a British barrister and legal scholar, specialising in administrative, human rights, and equality law. She was a founder of Matrix Chamber in 2000. She has been Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford since 2018.
An exclusive interview with Alison Meek for First 100 Years. Alison is a partner in Harcus Sinclair’s contentious trusts and estates team and has been appointed by the High Court to act as executor in complex estates. She was a founder of ACTAPS (Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists).
In 2017, Baroness Brenda Hale became the first woman to be appointed president of the Supreme Court in England & Wales. The First 100 Years project was lucky to film her before, when she was the only woman supreme court justice. She is a true trailblazer for women in law and women in leadership more widely. And is often described by the younger generations as a ‘rock star’ for being so vocal about the importance of equality in making the law serve society better.
An exclusive interview with Shân Warnock-Smith QC for First 100 Years. Widely regarded as one of the leading names at the Chancery Bar, Warnock-Smith is an adviser and litigator specialising in trusts, succession and private wealth issues.
An exclusive interview with Ruth, Lady Morris of Kenwood CBE for First 100 Years. An eminent property lawyer, Ruth worked at her father’s firm Janners for 25 years, before becoming Chairman of Partners. Ruth was also a vice-president of ‘Woman of the Year Lunch & Assembly’ and is a trustee of several charitable trusts.
In an exclusive interview with First 100 Years, John Steel QC discusses how he was inspired to become a barrister by his mother, Marianne Steel (who practised under her maiden name and second name, Val Rees). Called to the Bar in 1978, John is a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers and was appointed Silk in 1993. He was the first person called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn whose parents were both members of Gray’s Inn.
Angeli Arora, MA (Oxon) was one of the youngest lawyers to become partner, and managing partner, at a top tier international law firm. Indeed, she was amongst the first female lawyers to achieve record breaking success, as a solicitor qualified under the laws of England and Wales, in the international legal arena.
In terms of her background, Angeli notes: “I come from a line of strong, intelligent and brave Indian women. However, I was the first female in our family history to be given the chance to have a career or even go to university. Even in my generation, a number of my female peers at school were told by their parents that they must get married (and then have children) as soon as they finished their education.”
Angeli graduated from Oxford University and trained at Linklaters (including a seat in Japan). She then practised corporate law at a top US law firm in London. It became clear very quickly that Angeli was on partnership track, as she was running large cross-border transactions for the office’s most important clients within a couple of years post qualification.
Angeli saw a number of clients becoming particularly active in Asia, with the rapid growth of countries like India and China. Therefore, at age 28, Angeli sat down with her managing partner to discuss how they could set up an office to better service the region. 6 months later, Angeli was sitting in Hong Kong, tasked with bringing in the client work and establishing the firm there.
“Most people thought I was crazy,” recalls Angeli, “a young woman leaving her family and jeopardising a very solid career for an opportunity that could go horribly wrong”.
However, Angeli quickly won herself a loyal client base in Asia and acted on a number of the highest profile investor actions in the region. She advised on high stake corporate transactions in Hong Kong, China, Japan, India, Malaysia, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand (to name a few). The success of the firm in Hong Kong exceeded all expectations and Angeli was promoted to partnership as she turned 30 (just 5 years post qualification) – possibly the youngest partner at a top tier international law firm at that time. Before Angeli’s 31st birthday, she was managing partner of the thriving office – likely the youngest managing partner at a top tier international law firm at that time.
Angeli returned to London for a number of years and, then decided to move to Africa and join the largest law firm in the world as group leader of their private equity (and investment funds) practice in Africa, seeing an exciting opportunity to be part of the world’s next fastest growing economy after South Asia.
Angeli’s international experience has allowed her to get involved in a number of global issues and initiatives, as well as play a part in the shaping of laws/legal market practice relating to investment/business issues around the world. “I have often found myself fighting for better accountability, transparency and corporate governance in jurisdictions where these principles are less developed. I have often found myself driving information and idea sharing between jurisdictions on corporate law matters. Whilst each country has its own laws, there are always lessons to be learnt from other legal systems – indeed this is an important part of globalisation.” remarks Angeli.
However, the challenges faced by female lawyers in law are particularly acute when it comes to cross-border transactions: these transactions tend to involve long, unpredictable hours (dealing with different time zones); frequent travel (and even picking up your family and moving to a new country for secondments) and coping with different attitudes towards the role of women in different jurisdictions.
Angeli notes from her own experience that females face difficult trade-off’s when deciding whether to spend time abroad to advance their career. “I went to Hong Kong when I was single. People told me I would miss the boat in terms of having a family if I went abroad. I went to South Africa when I had two little children. People told me I needed to be around the support structure of my extended family in the UK if I wanted to continue working. Both points are valid to a degree, but it is up to each person to decide if they are deal breakers.”
Angeli notes “English law is still the preferred governing law in cross-border transactions across the world. This gives English qualified lawyers a really interesting opportunity in the international legal forum and English qualified lawyers are continually understanding all the possibilities which flow from this. Women are still poorly represented in leadership roles in the UK (and the rest of the world), which means it is even more important that we do not miss out on the career advancing and learning opportunities for lawyers qualified in England and Wales participating in cross border work, despite the barriers and obstacles.”
As it stands, Angeli has acted on high profile transactions in over 50 countries, in most of the continents in the world.
Catherine Barnard, Professor of European Union Law and Employment Law at Trinity College Cambridge.
Catherine Barnard is Professor of European Union Law and Employment Law and Senior Tutor of Trinity College. She is a leading researcher working on the issues surrounding the Brexit negotiations. She is also a Senior Fellow in the Economic and Social Research Council’s UK in a Changing Europe project and undertaking a project entitled “Honeypot Britain?” looking at whether migrants are travelling to Britain to gain access to benefits. Before the referendum, Catherine spent her time giving presentations about the EU in town halls across the country.
Catherine was born in Kent and moved to Belfast when she was young. Her father was an English Civil servant working in Belfast. She lived through the troubles. This experience is the reason why this issue is particularly meaningful to her in the Brexit negotiations and has impacted the focus of her research to date.
She read Law at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. She then studied an LLM at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. Catherine wrote her dissertation on the European litigation strategy of the then Equal Opportunities Commission (now EHRC) and how EU law could be used to deliver greater equality to women. While at the EUI, Catherine set up a Viennese waltz society. She also enhanced her knowledge about Renaissance art as the Italian method of learning encourages a rounded education. After completing her education, she had offers to either join the bar or to become an academic. She took up a post at Southampton university. She subsequently moved to Cambridge, was awarded a PhD and has taught there ever since.
Catherine is currently working on Brexit projects. The nuances of Brexit have required close research of EU law and thus provided a ‘huge learning curve’ to better understand it. It is necessary to know the details of WTO law, UK constitutional law and knowledge of specific sectors particularly affected by Brexit such as distribution and air transport.
Catherine participated in a project to celebrate the 40 year anniversary of women being admitted into Trinity. Postgraduate students were admitted in 1976, Fellows in 1977 and undergraduates in 1978. There is limited visual representation of women in Trinity. One of the elements in the project was putting up portraits of some of the female Fellows. This project stimulated intense discussions about what is it like to be a woman in academia today.
Catherine notes that there has been an improvement in the number of women entering the legal sector; there are now more female students than male students going into law. However, there is still a pyramid structure. Catherine is concerned that there is still a worrying dropout rate of women from the legal profession in their late twenties, early thirties. It becomes trickier to juggle the needs of children with a demanding career, and childcare is expensive. Young mothers want to spend time with their children.
Veronica Lowe, M.A.(Oxon), is a Solicitor and President St Hugh’s College Alumni Association, humorously credited with pioneering the six page CV for her continued success in a variety of fields within the legal profession.
Lowe read Modern History at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University, and was the first woman to take Military History as a Special Subject.
She was the joint first female articled clerk in a 175 year-old solicitors’ firm and admitted as a solicitor in January 1979 when only 7.5% of solicitors were women.
Lowe became the first female Area Director for Legal Aid, responsible for the Legal Aid Scheme in the West Midlands, East Midlands and East Anglia, and was a member of the Management Board.
Another achievement of Lowe’s was becoming Director of the Solicitors’ Complaints Bureau, then the largest professional complaints-handling body in the world, and second female member of the Law Society’s Management Board.
She then became the first person from outside the Civil Service to be appointed at Permanent Under-Secretary level as the Chief Executive of a Next Steps Government Agency, and member of the Inland Revenue Executive Board, as well as one of the first women to be Head of Legal Affairs for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for a global pharmaceutical company.
Veronica became Board Member of the European Generic Medicines Association in Brussels, and of its Legal Affairs Committee, working with the European Commission on drafting pharmaceutical and patents legislation.
With 17 years as a Tribunal Judge, Lowe presided over cases in areas such as immigration, asylum, human rights, and social entitlement.
Lowe is currently President of St Hugh’s College Alumni Association.
As the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time looms, we are searching for the details of the first woman lawyers to become partners in solicitors’ firms.It was this photograph of Dorothy Livingston, the first female partner at Herbert Smith, which inspired Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support to create the First 100 Years project to celebrate, inform and inspire future generations of women in the profession.
Work is well under way to produce a new digital museum made up of video stories, a timeline, biographies, articles and podcasts that tell the story of women in law. We have uncovered much information about the first women pioneers both solicitors and barristers, but the details of the ‘middle years’ how women progressed through the ranks of the profession is missing, and we are calling on you to help us. Did your law firm have the first woman solicitor to make partnership in the UK? Was your mother or grandmother a first?
The Law Society, AWS, among others is helping us in our search, please ask colleagues, friends and relations, dig out your firm’s archives and let us know by email [email protected]
The project’s legacy will be the creation for the first time of positive role models for women in law, a deep understanding of the past combined with a celebration of today, a cross-sector platform for intelligent debate and change and a valuable archive accessible to everyone from law students to High Court judges. Our aim is to ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession. The project is powered by Spark21, a charity founded to celebrate, inform and inspire future generations of women in the profession.
May Doris Charity Taylor (nee Clifford) was the first female prison governor in England and Wales.
Born in Woking, Surrey, on 16th September 1914, Taylor qualified in medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London. She later joined the Prison Commission during WW2 because she felt that her skills as a doctor should be used to help with the war effort.
She was appointed Assistant Medical Officer at Holloway Prison on 1942, a women only prison since 1902, before which time all the Medical Officers had been men.
In 1945, at the age of 30, she was appointed Governor of HM Prison Holloway, becoming the first woman appointed to the position. Whilst in post, she reformed the way prisons approached female inmates, focusing on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. The prison throughout Victorian and Edwardian times had been incredibly punishment-focused, and behind closed doors women were made to do menial labour. Her goal was to better equip women for leaving prison. She said, at her appointment to governor, that tThe thing is to give some of these people the hope that they will become decent citizens again. Severe punishment is not always the way to prevent an individual doing something wrong.”
She allowed women to wear their own clothes, makeup, and the biggest reform of all, to keep their babies in prison with them after they were born in the prison hospital. She also broadened the education experience in Holloway, introducing classes in first aid, typing and home nursing as well as more traditional types of learning like English literature and current affairs.
Her time as Governor oversaw the last hanging of a woman in the UK on 23 July 1955, when Ruth Ellis was hanged for shooting her boyfriend dead.
In 1959, she was appointed as Assistant Director and Inspector of Prisons for Women. She spent much of her time training staff and lecturing at the Prison Staff Training College at Wakefield. She was evidently passionate about ensuring standards at women’s prisons throughout England and Wales, visiting them regularly, ensuring the tough but caring system of rehabilitation.
She married the physician Stephen Taylor (later Baron Taylor) in 1930. In 1966, she retired and moved to Canada with her husband when he was appointed as President and Vice-Chancellor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Here, she became President of the Social Welfare Council. When her husband retired, she moved back to Britain in 1973.
Charity Taylor died in West Sussex on 4th January 1998. Taylor’s obituary in the Independent credits her with always remembering that “the prisoners were there to be helped back successfully into society”.
Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years
Dorothy Mary Donaldson was the first female Lord Mayor of London.
Dorothy Mary Donaldson, The Lady Donaldson of Lymington, previously known as Dame Mary Donaldson, was born in Wickham, Hampshire, and trained in Oxford as a nurse during the war, qualifying in 1946. Her patients included soldiers returning from Dunkirk and victims of the Blitz.
Donaldson said that she was “never one for playing bridge and drinking coffee” and whilst she brought up her three children she spent her time volunteering and supporting charities such as the Red Cross. She became a magistrate at the Inner London Juvenile Court. She decided to stand in her local area, which happened to be the Corporation of the City of London, and whilst no legal reason she could not stand, she was warned that it was not a good idea as no woman had ever held the post. She became the first woman to be elected to the City’s Court of Common Council.
In 1966, she was elected a Member of the City of London Court of Common Council and became the first female Alderman in 1975, with the first female Sheriff of the City of London in 1981. From 1967-69, she chaired the Women’s National Cancer Control Campaign, and then the Vice President of the British Cancer Council.
In 1983, Donaldson became the first female Lord Mayor. Her election created history as the first woman to hold the position in its 800 year history. Her theme of office was “it’s people that matter” and it was her duty to hold banquets for visiting headings of state, among those she entertained were the Emir of Bahrain and President Mitterrand. She remained the only female Lord Mayor of the City of London until the election of Fiona Woolf in 2013.
She called herself “Lord Mayor”, choosing not to adopt the female equivalent. Those who incorrectly referred to her as the “Lady Mayoress” would be fined £1 payable to the NSPCC. ”The fact that I’m a woman is purely biological,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1983. ”If it encourages other women to take more positions of responsibility, then it’ll have achieved something, but I’m not a feminist.”
She also commented that “of course there are things which men can do better than women…but equally, women have attributes which men can never possess. Personally, I find it difficult not to become over-involved in issues concerning people”.
Donaldson chaired the Interim Licensing Authority for Human In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryology from 1985 and then was a member of the Press Complaints Commission from 1991-96.
Donaldson served on the committee of the Royal Humane Society from 1968-83. From 1991-1995 she was a member of the Press Complaints Commission, and she was a chairman of the Council of the Banking Ombudsman from 1985-1994. She was vice-president of Counsel and Care for the Elderly from 1980.
In her spare time, Donaldson enjoyed gardening, sailing and skiing. She died aged 82 in 2003, leaving behind her husband, John Donaldson, Baron Donaldson of Lymington, the Master of the Rolls from 1982-92, two daughters, a son and six grandchildren.
Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years
Elsie Bowerman was called to the Bar in 1924, two years after Ivy Williams became the first woman called. She was also a suffragette, a Titanic survivor, and barrister.
Born in 1889, Elsie was the daughter of a prosperous businessman who died when she was five years old. When she started at Wycombe Abbey, aged 11, she was the youngest ever student. However, she tackled school with an upbeat determination that was to characterise the rest of her life, and didn’t shed a tear when her mother dropped her off. After Wycombe, she studied for the Medieval and Modern Languages Tripos at Girton College, Cambridge.
Whilst at University, Elsie became a committed suffragette. Both she and her mother were members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Elsie formed a suffrage group at Girton, and had Mrs. Pankhurst once stay with her after a meeting in Cambridge! Her mother even took part in the infamous Black Friday demonstration on November 18th 1910, when suffragettes and police clashed in Parliament Square.
In 1911, having completed the Tripos examination Class II, Elsie and her mother set sail on the infamous RMS Titanic. The passenger liner sunk after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic; over 1,500 people died in the disaster. Both Elsie and her mother survived, and continued their travels in Northern America.
Although the WSPU intensified their militancy from 1912-14, on the outbreak of World War One, it ceased suffrage activities. In 1916, Elsie began work as an orderly for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, an all female organisation that placed doctors, nurses, chauffeurs and orderlies to treat injured soldiers in war zones.
Post-War, Elsie was Christabel Pankhurst’s election agent for the 1918 general election, and founded the Women’s Guild of Empire, a organisation that promoted Britain’s imperialist aims, with fellow suffragette, Flora Drummond.
Elsie joined Middle Temple, was called to the Bar in 1924 and practised as a barrister until 1938. Her most famous case was when she helped prosecute prominent communist activist, Harry Pollit, for libel. She was the first women barrister to appear at the Old Bailey, and she also wrote a book titled The Law of Child Protection.
Elsie remained active during World War Two. She joined the Women’s Voluntary Services, which aimed to help those in need throughout the UK. After the war she was asked to help in the setting up of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
By the end of World War Two, Elsie was fifty-six. She never married, and lived close to her widowed mother. She remained deeply involved with Wycombe Abbey, the school where she was educated, for the rest of her life. She died in 1973, and a blue plaque commemorates where she lived in St Leonards.
A tribute to Elsie in the Wycombe Abbey Gazette noted Elsie’s own words on her approaching death:
“As one approaches the end of life an accountable feeling of melancholy creeps over one. This is not because of my fear of the life to come, rather than joyful anticipation….Life has been so full of surprises that one cannot believe that there are not even greater joys and adventures in store.”
In 2016, a previous unknown portrait of Elsie Bowerman was unearthed. In it, she appears in her orderly uniform from The Scottish Women’s Hospitals. The portrait was found by a family having a clear out, and was auctioned off. During the auction process, it was discovered that the auctioneer Timothy Medhurst was the great-great-grandson of Robert Hichens, a quartermaster who’d been in lifeboat six with Bowerman when she was saved from the Titanic.
Elsie Bowerman lived an extraordinary life, and was deeply involved with the political issues of her day. She achieved so much: she was the first women to appear as a barrister at the Old Bailey, she worked close to the front line to save lives during World War One, and was committed to the principle of equal rights.
Written by Laura Noakes, PhD researcher at the Open University
Dorothy Knight Dix was the first woman to sit as recorder for a jury trial and was only the second woman to be appointed to the County Court bench, following Elizabeth Lane DBE.
Dorothy Knight Dix, later Dorothy Waddy, was born on 8th September 1909 and attended school in Hampstead before studying at University of Lausanne in Switzerland and University College London. She was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1934.
In January 1946, aged 36, Dix stood in as Recorder of Deal, when Sir Archibald was taken ill. This made legal history as the first woman to hold this position. The ceiling of the courtroom collapsed later that month, which some at the time feared was a bad omen resulting from her taking this judicial post.
Dix was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1957, before finally being appointed a County Court judge in 1968, becoming only the second woman ever to become a County Court judge, after Elizabeth Lane DBE, appointed in 1962.
Dix married Bentley Waddy, a Queen’s Counsel, in 1947, a year after her historic appointment to Deputy Recorder. She died on the 8th January 1970, aged sixty.
Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Mary Dorothea Heron, Helena Mary Early and Dorothea Mary Browne were the first three women to be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland.
The first three women admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland were Mary Dorothea Heron from Downpatrick Co. Down, Helena Mary Early from Dublin city and Dorothea Mary Browne from Skibbereen, Co. Cork: the first two admitted in 1923, the latter in 1924. Their apprenticeships were made possible by the enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, which received Royal Assent on the 23 December 1919, but the commencement date was the 27 April 1920, by which time Heron had signed indentures on the 7 February 1920. The Incorporated Law Society of Ireland took a pragmatic view, aware that two women had already been admitted to King’s Inns to be barristers. Early’s indentures were noted on the 20 June 1920, Browne’s on the 5 November 1921.
The War of Independence commenced in January 1919 and lasted until the Truce on the 11 July 1920, but the Anglo- Irish Treaty signed in London on the 6 December 1921 was not accepted by a significant minority as the six northern counties did not wish to be incorporated into a new Irish state. The proponents and opponents of the Treaty entered into bitter arguments, resulting in a civil war which commenced on the 28 June 1922, with the bombardment of the Four Courts, the seat of the courts and professions. The Four Courts complex was destroyed including the Solicitors’ Building. The Law Society proceeded with the examinations in the Royal College of Surgeons on the 4 July 1922, ‘during the course of the military operations’.
The Government of Ireland Act 1920, enacted at Westminster, provided for the creation of two Irish states, to the dismay of the southern Irish. The partition of Ireland came to pass, with the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in 1922. The act had practical consequences for the three apprentices – two new legal jurisdictions were established, commencing on the 1 October 1921. The two law societies, the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland and the Incorporated Law Society of Northern Ireland agreed in 1922, that indentures dated prior to the 1 October 1921, ‘finish under Dublin’. Two of the three women were thus part of the last cohort of solicitors entitled to practise in both jurisdictions in partitioned Ireland. The three women, in common with their male counterparts completed their training against a backdrop of war and violence with considerable risk and approximately one thousand eight hundred people were killed during the civil war. Heron was a graduate of Queens University Belfast, B.A., LLB. Early and Browne were Law Clerks. The term of indentures was three years, for each.
Mary Dorothea Heron
Heron was from Downpatrick, Co. Down, she was the daughter of the ‘county surveyor’ for Co. Down, her mother was also a graduate. Heron was a Presbyterian, though her mother was a member of the Church of Ireland, perhaps less surprising, as her grandfather was a Presbyterian minister with a doctorate in divinity. She was the third generation of her family and the second generation woman to attend university, an exception to the norm in 1920. Critically her uncle Thomas, was a solicitor providing a pathway to enter the profession, she was 24 when she was indentured. Her entry was well marked, the president of the law society critiqued the 1919 act ‘its developments will be viewed with considerable interest and curiosity, and already lady candidates have entered’.
Heron was an excellent student, she was placed second in the Final Examination in January 1923, her success was noted in the Belfast newspapers on the 3 February 1923, carrying identical reports ‘she was placed second and was awarded a special certificate for distinguished answering, being the first lady solicitor in Ireland’. Heron was admitted to the Roll on the 17 April 1923, returned to practise with her uncle’s firm TM Heron in Belfast and practised in probate until 1946. She did not take out a practising certificate during those years, and is not included in the law directories or statistics, which has affected her place in the historiography of solicitors. Helena M. Early is represented as the ‘first woman solicitor to practise in Ireland’, with Kathleen Donaghy admitted Easter 1926, as the ‘first woman solicitor in Northern Ireland’.
In 2015 the Dublin law society in an article celebrating the then parity of numbers in men and women solicitors, noted there was ‘a perception in these early years that women solicitors were engaged as assistant solicitors in conveyancing and probate work, may not have taken out a practising certificate, which was a convention permitted at the time’. This convention existed until 1974, it was not gender specific, non-court attending male solicitors were included. Heron retired in 1946, and died on the 9 October 1960, aged 64. The Northern Ireland Law Society of Ireland has no knowledge of Heron, presumably because she never held a practising certificate, the Law Society of Ireland (Dublin) in 2017, commenting on the fact that the majority of the profession are now women says, ‘the milestone is striking in the context of the profession’s historical background: the first woman solicitor M.D. Heron was only admitted as a solicitor 94 years ago in 1923’. The statistics, in summary, are: 1923 men 1,397 women 0. 2017 men 4,664, women 5,001, sourced from the Law Society Gazette March 2018, the 1923 figures include Northern Ireland, the 2017 figures are Republic of Ireland only.
Helena Mary Early
Early was originally from Swords, Co. Dublin one of five children of a farmer, from a Roman Catholic family. Her brother Thomas was admitted to the Roll in Hilary term 1899, and she worked for him as a law clerk, she was placed first in the Preliminary Examination in January 1920, which was a necessary prelude to her signing indentures on the 22 June 1920, aged 32. She was elected Auditor of the Solicitors’ Apprentices Debating Society for 1920-1, which was an achievement, partly explained by her maturity and her political activism. The next woman auditor was not to be until 1970, the Irish Times on the 28 October 1970 carried a photograph of both.
Early placed first in the Intermediate Examination and fourth in her Final Examination in May 1923, she was admitted to the Roll on the 25 June 1923. She practised with her brother at 63-4 O’Connell Street, Dublin in the courts particularly the District Court, and was a familiar figure, she combined practice with left-wing political activism. She was President of the Ireland–U.S.S.R. Friendship Society, which was in existence between 1945—66, its purpose to ‘combat all falsehoods designed to misrepresent the peaceful aims of the Soviet Union’. This cause did not meet with universal approval, a meeting in the Mansion House was interrupted by neo-Nazis, in the consequent disorder two of the stewards Harry Ryan and Sean Dempsey were charged and convicted of assault, receiving a fine of £95 or three months in jail in lieu. Early, as president, signed the appeal to raise the money to pay the fine. The Friendship society operated on ‘a spasmodic basis during the 1950s and 1960s’, the society became moribund, a new one was established in 1966 titled ‘the Ireland—U.S.S.R. Society’, without involvement from Early. She retired in the 1960s and died in 1977. She is represented as the ‘first woman practising solicitor in Ireland’, which is technically correct, as she took out a practising certificate, her name is recorded in the archives.
Dorothea Mary Browne- O’Reilly
Dorothea Mary Browne was admitted to the Roll under her maiden name of Browne, the entry was amended following her marriage to ‘DM O’Reilly’, which is the name by which she became known. She was the fourth child of an Royal Irish Constabulary sergeant who in the 1901 census was marked deceased leaving a widow aged 34 with six children in total, the eldest 14 and the youngest two. The family were Roman Catholic, living in Mitchelstown, Co, Cork at the time.
O’Reilly worked as a Law Clerk for one of the most remarkable Irish solicitors, Jasper Travers Wolfe, Skibbereen, Co Cork, a Methodist and Crown solicitor in West Cork. He incurred the wrath of the IRA. O’Reilly was travelling in Wolfe’s car when it was subject to an aborted IRA ambush. She became indentured to him on the 5 November 1921, aged 28. It was necessary for law clerks to serve seven years prior to becoming indentured. She emulated the first two women’s achievements being placed second in the Final Examination, awarded a Silver Medal. She was admitted to the Roll on the 17 November 1924.
She met another apprentice during her studies Patrick F. O’Reilly whom she married. They founded a firm in Dublin, named P.F. O’Reilly& Co and both practised for the ensuing decades. The firm continues to practise, with her grandson Peter O’Reilly as the third generation solicitor. O’ Reilly practised throughout her life, during which time she had three children. Her husband was in politics, elected to the Senate of the Republic of Ireland in 1951-1954, and was subsequently was appointed a Taxing Master, which meant that O’Reilly was the critical solicitor in managing the practice. She retired in the 1960s and died in 1973.
Written by John Garahy, retired solicitor and current M.Phil. student in Modern Irish History at Trinity College Dublin.
Elizabeth Lane DBE was an English barrister and judge. She was the first woman appointed as a judge in the County Court, and the first female High Court judge in England. She is most extraordinary since she had no formal university education gaining a career in law by her own means.
Born Elizabeth Kathleen Coulborn on 9 August 1905 in Bowden, Cheshire Elizabeth was raised by her parents Kate Wilkinson and Edward Coulborn, mill owners who received good pay and the ability to allow Lane to have an impressive home education by governesses and tutors. Before World War I Lane moved with her family to Switzerland for a year but later returned to England where she boarded at Twizzletwig School in Hindhead, Surrey from the age of thirteen and then attended Malvern Girls’ College from the age of fifteen. In her later life, she described herself as “not the studious kind”, much preferring games to schoolwork. She chose not to go to university, instead to be “done with academics and have a good time”’.
Instead she spent time with her brother, Rushton, in Montreal from 1924 where she met Randall Lane. She wed Randall in 1926 at Didsbury Parish Church, Manchester. Lane then gave birth to John Lane born in 1928 but he soon died from pneumonia after suffering brain damage as a result of epilepsy.
Elizabeth then began her legal career due to the influence of her husband who was reading at the bar. After reading his material she became intrigued, launching her career in November 1938 at the Inner Temple where she and her husband both studied law. She passed her final examinations in October 1939 and was called to the bar in 1940. Gaining a pupillage under Geoffrey Howard and then practicing at the Midland Circuit.
Her successes include being the third woman to become Kings Counsel in 1950, the first woman to be appointed Recorder of Derby in 1961, the first woman to be appointed a County Court judge in 1962, and the first woman to be appointed a judge of the High Court in 1965. Elizabeth’s significance was duly noted and she was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In 1971 she was assigned to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty division where she chaired the committee which investigated the operation of the The Abortion Act 1967, and ultimately wrote the majority of Volume 1 of its Report herself.
Following the death of her husband in 1975, Elizabeth retired in 197,9 moving out of the Temple to Winchester, though returning to London on an occasional basis to sit as an additional member of the Court of Appeal.
Elizabeth was made an honorary member of the Western Circuit, attending their Circuit dinners. Then in 1986 she became an honorary fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, a woman-only college. She later died of natural causes in 1988 at her home in Winchester. Elizabeth is remembered for her ability to encourage women to pursue a career at the bar.
Hollie Fletcher, University of Worcester Law Student
Professor Frances Elizabeth Moran was the first female law lecturer in Ireland, the first female Regius Professor at Trinity College, Dublin and the first woman to take silk in Ireland, years before any woman in Britain.
Born on the 6th December 1893, the second daughter of Senator James Moran, Frances Moran was educated at Dominican College and then at Trinity College, Dublin, where she was awarded her LLB and LLD the following year. She was called to the Irish Bar in 1924 and the English Bar in 1940, later becoming the first woman to take silk in Ireland when she was called to the Inner Bar in 1941, years before any woman took silk in Britain.
As the first female law lecturer in Ireland, predating her UK counterparts by 45 years, Moran was appointed to a succession of positions, including Professor of Equity at the King’s Inns in 1932 and Professor of Laws at Trinity in 1934. Her lectures were known for being rigorous and she did not tolerate carelessness by her students in their knowledge of the law or in their use of the English language. Moran’s appointment as Reid Professor in 1925 was the first appointment of a woman to Dublin University Chair in any subject, and she held this position until 1930. She was subsequently the first woman to be appointed the prestigious post of Regius Professor at Trinity in 1944 and continued to hold this position for 30 years. She also became the first woman to sit on the Board of the College. In 1968 she became Honorary Fellow and Honorary Bencher of the King’s Inn in Dublin.
As an intellectually curious and adventurous woman, Moran attended the Nuremberg Trials, and reportedly commented that the men were “so ordinary” and looked like they had “sat up all night in a third-class railway carriage”. She also undertook a number of world tours for the International Federation of University Women, of which she became President.
Following Moran’s death on the 7th October 1977, aged 83, an obituary spoke of her sociable side, enjoying legal gossip, sherry and cigarettes. She was also praised for her contribution to women’s education and their advancement in society. This is in addition to her being a pioneer for women in academia and the legal profession.
Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
The 2018 Pankhurst Lecture, “2018 – A Year of Anniversaries”, was delivered on the evening of 8th February 2018 by Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE PC FBA, the first woman to become President of the Supreme Court.
On the night, the University of Manchester, where Lady Hale taught law from 1966 to 1984, welcomed her back with open arms and rapturous applause. Lady Hale chose to use the opportunity to highlight the lives of three great women who were all alive in 1918 – the year (some) women got the vote, on the 6th February.
Lady Hale couldn’t deliver the Pankhurst Lecture without mentioning Christabel Pankhurst herself, a suffragette and leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union who obtained a First Class degree in Law from the University of Manchester. Lady Hale told the story of how Christabel was unable to practise as a barrister in 1904 just by virtue of the fact that she was a woman. The somewhat lesser known story of Miss Bertha Cave had set the precedent just a few months earlier when her own request to be admitted as a student to Gray’s Inn was refused on the grounds that women were not “persons”. It would be 1920, after enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, before women were admitted to the Inns of Court as student barristers.
The second great woman (and sadly not so famous) was Margaret Haig Mackworth, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda, whose mother, Sybil Haig, 1st Viscountess Rhondda, must also get a mention as a prominent feminist and suffragette. Margaret’s father obtained special permission for his daughter to inherit his title upon his death. However, when she tried to take his seat in the House of Lords, citing the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, she was refused on the grounds that the 1919 Act could not be applied retrospectively. Lady Rhondda never entered the House of Lords. She did (just) live to see the Life Peerages Act reach royal assent in 1958 which allowed women to sit in the House of Lords for the first time. Five years later the Peerages Act 1963 was passed which would have allowed women such as Margaret to take their seat.
The third of Lady Hale’s great women (and not famous at all) was her own mother. Born in 1908, she began her life in a time when women were often entirely dependent on men and lived through a time of emerging independence. Lady Hale recalled that growing up there was never any question that she and her two sisters would go to university. When her father died at a young age, her mother “picked herself up” and became the headmistress of the local primary school in order to ensure that her two younger children could remain at the Richmond School for Girls. It is clear that her mother’s determination had a huge influence on a young Lady Hale.
Whilst not the subject of her own lecture, save perhaps for the wonderful introduction from Professor Colette Fagan, the final great woman of the evening has to be Lady Hale herself. Describing herself as a woman of many “firsts”, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission; the first High Court judge to have made her career as an academic and public servant rather than a practising barrister; the United Kingdom’s first (and only) woman Law Lord; the first (but, since 2017, not the only one) female Justice of the Supreme Court and the first female President of the Supreme Court.
As the evening drew to a close, we were treated to a fascinating glimpse into some of Lady Hale’s personal views on gender inequality.
Whilst she sees the benefit of positive discrimination in some settings (for example, in encouraging female politicians) she is not convinced that it has a place in the judiciary – preferring that steps continue to be taken to ensure equality of opportunity for all and a transparent application process.
After confirming her shock at the 40% gender pay gap reported at some law firms, she imparted some of her own wisdom, suggesting that whilst there is no easy answer, two factors can play a part in how much people are paid – our ability to ask for more money and / or be mobile. In her opinion, some women lack confidence to do the first and, generally speaking, find the second more difficult than men, perhaps due to additional responsibilities they tend to bear. She suggested that, as a start at least:
Women need to be encouraged to speak up and ask to be paid appropriately.
She set the record straight on her view on male only groups – whether or not she agrees with them, she has not taken issue with men being part of male only institutions but does object to judges being part of them. In her view, their membership calls into question their views on equality and a judge must always be and appear to be equal.
On the subject of male only groups, she recalled her own experience as a young female barrister being refused permission to attend the barrister’s mess by the “dinosaurs”. But the story ended well – a postal vote ensured that the dinosaurs were outnumbered and, eventually, women were allowed to attend.
Lady Hale definitely lives up to her widely regarded reputation as a trailblazer. There is an honesty to her judgments and, it seems, her lectures, which, alas, sometimes are missing from the legal profession.
She is truly one of our great women and an inspiration to female lawyers, including this one.
Written for the First 100 Years project by Charlotte Lewis, Associate, Hill Dickinson
Richard Barr, Law Society Council Member, remembers Mary Smith (1967 – 1979) a trailblazer in legal journalism.
My late father David Barr and I (later) wrote for the Law Society Gazette. I think that in the late 60s/ early 70s the Gazette had an editorial committee and that my father was on it. That is how he got to know Mary Smith. When I was studying law in Nottingham I sent in an article about being a law student and Mary accepted and published it. It was my first ever article in a legal publication. So one could say she launched me on my legal writing career.
I met Mary when she came to stay with my parents at their home in Cambridgeshire (my father was senior partner of a solicitors’ firm in Wisbech; my mother was a GP from the US – another interesting story as she was very much a woman in a man’s medical world in the 1930s and 40s). I remember Mary as being a bubbly, lively and rather larger than life character. She was certainly fun to be with and quite forceful. She stayed with my parents a few times. She was single. I don’t think she ever married or had children. On one occasion I think she came with a man but I don’t know if this was a long term relationship or not. I seem to remember he was a partner in Boodle Hadfield but I cannot recall his name (we are talking about nearly 40 years ago!).
I have a fond memory of a train journey back to London (I was finishing my training in London) with Mary. We chatted all the way and she even paid my fare!
I believe that Mary edited the Gazette throughout the seventies. The Law Society then was very male orientated and it was probably not easy to be the editor of the Gazette. Not long after she left the Gazette she died. I have only a hazy idea what happened.
Lord Robert Cecil (born Edgar Algernon Robert Gasgoyne-Cecil), first Viscount of Chelwood, was born in Cavendish Square, London, on 14 September 1864, to the third Marquess of Salisbury, Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, who would be the Conservative Prime Minister from 25 June 1895 to 11 July 1902. Cecil studied Law at University College, Oxford in 1882. After coming down from Oxford, he joined Inner Temple and was called to the bar in 1887. In 1900, Cecil was appointed as a Queen’s Counsel. Over the course of his legal career, Cecil produced various works, including The Principles of Commercial Law, which was first published in 1891.
In 1906, Cecil successfully stood as a Conservative candidate in the constituency of Marylebone East. In 1911, he stood as an Independent Conservative candidate and was elected to represent the constituency of Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Hitchin was near to Cecil’s ancestral home in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.
I am strongly in favour of abolishing all distinctions as between men and women in public affairs
Cecil worked tirelessly in Parliament to represent his constituents. Most notably, he argued in favour of the Women’s Emancipation Bill, despite being a Conservative Member of Parliament and thus defying the view of his own party. Cecil expressed the view that those who opposed the bill ‘should be profoundly ashamed of themselves’. He also supported lowering the voting age for women, arguing that ‘can anyone really defend the proposition that a woman of thirty shall vote, and one of twenty-eight or twenty-five shall not?’ His actions in supporting equality for women were bold for the time, as he was prepared to act as a voice for those who could neither vote nor seek election to the House of Commons.
The arguments put forward by Cecil were successful in persuading his fellow MPs to vote in support of the Women’s Emancipation Bill, with the House of Commons voting 100 to 85 in favour of a third reading. Unfortunately, the Women’s Emancipation Bill did not become law, as it was overshadowed by the government’s own but less radical proposal. However, if but for the boldness of Lord Robert Cecil and other male supporters in the House of Commons, women may well have had to wait even longer for reform.
Most memorably, during his legal career, Cecil represented Miss Bebb in the Court of Appeal in Bebb v Law Society  1 Ch. 286. The case concerned an action against the Law Society for not allowing women to take exams in order to qualify as a solicitor. He argued that this should be allowed on the grounds of precedent, both because there had been women advocates in the UK in the Middle Ages, and because other jurisdictions already had women lawyers. Miss Bebb’s challenge failed, and it was not until five years later that women could enter the legal profession, after the passing of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919 – the Act which replaced Cecil’s own Women’s Emancipation Bill.
Cecil was consistent in standing up for the rights of women in Parliament and this is evident from his support of other bills that were in favour of gender equality. He strongly supported the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Bill:
the whole purpose of this Bill is to make women eligible for this House.
He voted in favour of the Women’s Enfranchisement Bill, supported by his colleague Mr Harry Brodie, who had argued that “sex should be no barrier to participation in Parliamentary franchise”.
Throughout his career, Lord Robert Cecil was consistent in fighting for equality and peace by becoming an architect of the League of Nations. The organisation was a forerunner to the United Nations, having been created under the Treaty of Versailles to achieve peace and security. Cecil received both the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937 and the Peace Award of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1924, in recognition of establishing the League of Nations.
Cecil died at the age of 94 on 24 November 1958 at Danehill, East Sussex.
Written for First 100 Years by Samuel Marc Evans, Second LLB Student, School of Law, University of Worcester
Rosalind Wright CB QC, second woman director of the Serious Fraud Office 1997-2003, remembers Dame Juliet Wheldon (1950-2014) DCB QC, who was Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service 2000-6.
I first met Juliet when, as a young legal assistant in her first post at the Treasury Solicitor’s Department in the 1970s, she came to see me, together with her line manager, Robert Armitage, who was then in charge of collating evidence for Exchange Control investigations for the Treasury, which we, at the DPP’s Department were charged with prosecuting. I was immediately struck by her evident intelligence and incisiveness as she cut through the persiflage and identified the key issues we would have to prove to get a conviction. I saw her regularly and often after that and we quickly became friends.
She was a brilliant lawyer and, in due course, as she was swiftly promoted, proved an excellent manager and mentor. She was very good at identifying talent in others and saw in Shami Chakrabarti, a junior member of her team at the Home Office, enormous potential and fostered it.
When she became Treasury Solicitor, in 2000, she chaired meetings of heads of government legal departments with vigour, speed and a good deal of humour. She was a polymath, with huge knowledge and interest in music, literature and art and a great love of travel. She was an intrepid traveller, going alone to Iran, when it was hardly safe for a woman to venture there on their own; she took a driver and covered the country; at one stage, picking up a young male hitchhiker who regaled and entertained her for several hours before telling her, as he bade farewell, that he was a member of Hezbollah, the proscribed Arab terrorist organisation.
Her mother was French and she spoke French fluently and taught herself Italian as well. Every new snippet of knowledge intrigued and fascinated her. She had few inhibitions; she was a familiar figure on her old sit-up-and-beg bicycle on which she invariably sped round from meeting to meeting in central London, her black hair flowing out behind her, as did her billowing skirts – she never wore trousers at work.
When I was appointed Director of the SFO, Juliet, then Legal Secretary to the Law Officers rang me to congratulate me and we arranged lunch at a wine bar in Chancery Lane. I arrived there before her (I watched her chaining up the bike outside) and she waved aside the menu, demanding to know what was available for dessert. When the waitress reeled off the various tempting sweets, Juliet said, “Yes, I’ll have them all”. The waitress asked “What, all at once?” and met the sharp retort, “Certainly not; one after the other”, remarking to me, “I can only do this when I go out with another woman; men don’t understand”.
She rang me once for a recipe for a “simple fish pie” and never stood on ceremony. She could be giggly and girlish, but at the same time, she had a sharp tongue and was never reticent in expressing her impatience (I remember her jumping off the slow train back to London from Glyndebourne at Gatwick, much irritated, to take the Gatwick Express, at additional expense, to get home more quickly) or to voice her disapproval of those she felt were unworthy of promotion or reward.
She died a long and painful death from cancer, much too young. She had a lot more to contribute to the profession and to life in general.
About the Author: Ros Wright is the Chairman of the Fraud Advisory Panel. She was Director of the Serious Fraud Office (1997-2003) and was also previously General Counsel and an Executive Director for ten years at the Securities and Futures Authority.
In our search for stories of legal pioneers, we came across this interview with Carrie Morrison, the first woman to be admitted to the Solicitors Roll in 1922, published in the Dundee Evening Telegraph on Tuesday 31 October 1922.
“Started by accident”
“I dropped into the work by accident; she said. ‘I had tried teaching but hated it, and that was bad for the children I had to teach. Then I took a secretarial course, hoping to get a job as a political secretary. During my war work at the Military Permit Office, however, I met Mr Alfred Baker, to whom I am articled. He told me that he would give me a post in his office after the war without thinking of making me a solicitor. The War Office offered me work in Constantinople however and I took that. When I returned, the Women’s Sex Disqualification Bill had been passed and Mr Baker agreed to waive a premium to give me a salary for my work as solicitor’s clerk.”
“The rough and tumble”
“Some of the solicitors tell me that I shall have a big divorce practice, but that is just what I do not want. Another solicitor said, however, that women do not mind going to a man with divorce cases so that they will not necessarily flock to me. I like common law best – litigation in the kind’s bench. I like the knotty points in commercial cases. Men say the law is too rough and tumble for women but I’ve had that in the Permit office. I like crime also; I think a woman solicitor would e useful in crimes which come under the Children Act.”
Just a few years into women being allowed to take the Law Society examinations to become solicitors and to embark on their articles, the number of women applying was considerably less than expected.
Carrie Morrison was of the view that women were prevented from applying by the prohibitive cost: “It is thought that the cost of becoming a solicitor- about £1000 – is proving too great a handicap at the present time”.
An exclusive interview with Dorothy Livingston, the original inspiration behind the First 100 Years project. She was the first female partner of what was then Herbert Smith. She was promoted to equity partner whilst pregnant with her second child but believes it took her longer than her contemporaries to be promoted.
As part of the aims of the First 100 Years project, Spark 21 held the third annual conference providing a cross-sector platform to debate ‘Women Leaders in Law: a 21st Century Conversation’.
Dana Denis-Smith, the founder of First 100 Years and CEO of Obelisk Support, welcomed the event’s largest audience so far and thanked the hosts, Simmons & Simmons LLP.
First 100 Years is soon to be expanded into France and Australia – in particular as Australia is celebrating its centenary for women a year ahead of England and Wales, in 2018. Dana set the tone by saying we are moving beyond hackneyed phrases on diversity by opening up a wider discussion and debate on promoting women leaders in the legal profession.
Christina Blacklaws, President Elect of The Law Society, praised the project in creating a unique archive of the history of women pioneers in law and resources offering a wide range of positive role model of women in law. She highlighted the work still to be done to achieve parity and equality, as the pay differential and partnership statistics for women are still woeful. Blacklaws then announced the launch of a far-reaching Law Society programme (working with the Bar and Lexis Nexis). This will comprise of research and round-table discussions facilitated by women, so that empirical data can be gathered to form the foundations of concrete proposals to redress the imbalances and effect change, culminating in a global summit in the centenary year 2019.
She urged everyone to participate in the discussions and continue the documenting of the stories of women in the legal profession. This call to action theme – the need for personal action and contribution to the wider debate – is one that was echoed throughout the day by enthusiastic questions, comments both in the hall and on Twitter #First100Years.
The historical context of women’s’ leadership was the topic of the next panel chaired by journalist Catherine Baksi. She described the journey of diversity from a time 100 years ago women were not considered ‘persons’ and therefore couldn’t become lawyers, the passing of The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, and posed the question of how this is represented at the leadership level today. Keith Krasny, leadership coach, observed that women don’t lack leadership skills; and their skills might be right for the new type of legal firms created by disruption. Professor Lisa Webley, University of Westminster. Bruce Macmillan, in-house lawyer and director of The Center for Legal Leadership, gave practical advice: recruit on technical skills and behaviours. If people are preventing diversity initiative, make them accountable for their decisions, added Sam Smethers CEO of the Fawcett Society.
Our #HeforShe keynote speaker Lord Neuberger followed on with his crisp distillation of principles of the importance of championing diversity in law, focusing on women in particular. 50 % of the population are women, therefore it’s a basic equality point; the failure to promote diversity in all its forms is a blatant waste of talent. “If you truly believe that women are less good at law than men, trying telling that to Brenda Hale!” he said. A more diverse profession (and from his stand point, judiciary) is needed more than ever in the current times to uphold the rule of law; this will foster greater trust by the public as a whole.
In essence, we need an inclusive and representative judiciary. Lord Neuberger spoke of male only application forms were still in use at Lincolns Inn in 1987. You had to manually cross out ‘he’ and ‘him’ and substitute ‘she’ and ‘her’, which epitomised the exclusion culture. Taking questions from the floor, he was direct and honest in his reflections that that in the past there was tolerance of behaviour prejudicial to women in law, and even included his own conduct. He agreed that everything we must work towards for women applies equally or more for BAME lawyers. At the end of the session, the hashtag #HeforShe was trending.
The next session continued with the #HeForShe theme, further exploring how can men help women in the profession and reach the higher echelons. Catherine Baksi, led the discussion with Andrew Langdon QC, Chairman of The Bar Council talked about the positive effect of flexible working hours and mandatory mentoring pairing. Chris White, Founder, Aspiring Solicitors said it’s important for leaders to have accountability and responsibility and change to happen now needs more proactive action to call-out abuses.
Suzanne Szczetnikowitcz, Inspirational Women in Law Finalist and solicitor spoke about the importance of networks and mentoring and highlighting the need to identify rising talent and her role in creating Women in Law in London. James Hanlon, GC, is proud of the great female leadership statistics at IKEA and is a big believer in statutory reporting and that transparency can bring change. Andrew Magowan General Counsel at ASOS talked about how General Counsel can definitely use their buying power to promote diversity amongst their panels and look with rigour at what actually happens, by whom, and not to take diversity claims at pitches at face value.
Harriet Johnson, Inspirational Women in Law Finalist 2017 and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers spoke of how women should overcome their reticence to promote their self and how she and others promoted others through the organisation Women in Criminal Law as a way of overcoming this. One audience member raised the topic of how women who displayed ambition could often be perceived in a negative light. Harriet said she took inspiration from her poster in her chambers which says: ‘Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man’. “We need cultural and institutional change and for men to be a part of that,” she summarised.
Katie Gollop QC, from Serjeants Inn Chambers, interviewed Nemone Lethbridge, who gave an extraordinary account of the barriers and hurdles of her very colourful personal and professional life as a female barrister. This interview was recorded for the BBC radio 4 Law in Action programme, scheduled to be broadcast on November.
She was one of two women reading Law at Somerville College at Oxford in 1952 and described how her tutor treated them with contempt as they ‘would only go on to commit the crime of matrimony’. She described in extraordinary detail the exclusion of women at the Bar at her chambers, where a lock was put on the lavatory door and all the men were given a key except her – she had to go to a café on Fleet Street.
She persisted and told her truly extraordinary life story, her clients the Kray twins, and of wearing pink kid gloves to the Old Bailey. On being asked her best practice tip she advised “always put yourself in the client’s shoes. Try to imagine what it’s like to be them.” To her, legal work is about fighting injustice and she still works at the law centre she founded in Stoke Newington.
We were then joined by Dame Jenni Murray who led the #SheForShe Women Leaders in Law panel. There was some discussion and disagreement about whether women made different leaders to men – but there was consensus about the importance of authenticity. We listened to Nilema Bhakta-Jones, General Counsel for Ascential plc on the importance of leaders allowing themselves to be the best version of themselves and not to shy away from traits of nurture, empathy and service.
Millicent Grant, President of CILEx, spoke passionately about her struggle to be given the opportunities to prove herself, how she found it in the public sector and her inspirational colleagues who told her to ‘do it fearfully’ – she also stated her belief that women do have different leadership styles – and that a breadth of styles is to be encouraged. Shanika Amarasekara, General Counsel described her varied career experiences leading to her current role at the British Business Bank and the importance of sensitivity in leadership. Oonagh Harpur, Leadership coach and former Linklaters’ partner stated “We will have arrived when men and women can lead in their own authentic way as we need different styles at different times.” Vidisha Joshi, Managing Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen spoke about her experiences at her firm where there is a heartening 70% female partnership.
Dame Jenni Murray then interviewed Her Honour Judge Joanna Korner CMG QC, Crown Court Judge and former Prosecutor at The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia about her experiences prosecuting three genocide trials relating to the Bosnian conflict. She spoke of her early experience at the Bar and her former pupil mistress playing a key role in her success.
The next #SheForShe panel focused on insights from women in the wider public sphere. We listened to classical Hannah Kendall who told us there were no women composers taught on the school curriculum until 2017. She emphasised the importance of visibility, and the need to challenge unconscious bias and who we imagine can do certain jobs. Alina Addison, leadership coach and former Rothschild banker talked about her life experience and how her son’s autism was a catalyst for change, propelling her into the sphere of coaching. Reena SenGupta, founder of FT Innovative Lawyers discussed her career leap was down to her deep interest for the project, her interest in others and how having helped people in the past will establish future connections – so give of yourself. Renee Elliott, founder of Planet Organic, explored her success through selling skills and not yourself; being passionate about what you’re doing and preparing for the hard questions.
The following session was billed as The Reunion. An intriguing teaser – pleasingly arising from the first conference where Justine Thornton QC posed the then panellist, the Right Honourable Lord Hodge, Justice of the Supreme Court a question about the number of female judicial appointees. She was then inspired to apply to the judiciary and told her cohort 39% new deputy high court judges are female. They echoed the imperative stated by Lord Neuberger that judicial diversity is so important to the rule of law. Justine Thornton QC says don’t get despondent about knock backs – ff you don’t get pupillage/training contract, work around and come back.
“You don’t have a choice about being a woman! Do not allow yourself to be diminished!”
The closing keynote speaker, The Right Honourable Lady Justice Thirlwall DBE, Deputy Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, gave a moving, tour de force, final speech. She touched on the importance of having resilience – never be held back by the thought others will say you only got the case, appointment, silk because you’re a woman. She described her a visit to her old school the 6th form pupils, who told her about the First 100 Years project and re-enacted the (possibly apocryphal) race down Chancery Lane in 1920s of the women to become awarded the accolade of being the first female solicitor. She concluded with the stirring words: “Someone gave me a baton and I’ve passed it on!”
We carried on the conversation chatting together at the drinks reception afterwards, where The Right Honourable Darren Jones MP for Bristol West and former BT lawyer talked about the imperative of fighting against discrimination ‘For equality to exist and grow, men must stand up to and call out inequality’. He concluded that of course he has frustrations with the current debate about sexual harassment in parliament, but that “cultural changes come from all of us and that shoulder to shoulder, we will achieve change.”
With thanks to all speakers and attendees, and host Simmons and Simmons LLP.
Written by Dana Denis-Smith, founder of Spark21 and creator of the First 100 Years
I was extremely privileged to have met Baroness Hale a few times in my legal career, both times part of our First 100 Years work, looking to document and archive the history of women in the legal profession. It is an honour to be able to mark a series of “firsts” in the legal profession – her appointment as the next president of the Supreme Court in the UK, to replace Lord Neuberger.
Change for women can be excruciatingly slow-paced but today marks a historic day for women in the legal profession. 55 years since Elizabeth Lane was appointed the country’s first woman county court judge – and 52 years since she was elevated to the High Court, also a first for a woman – the Supreme Court appointed Baroness Hale as its president.
She will take up her new role on 2 October 2017 and she will be joined by a second woman on the Supreme Court, Lady Justice Black – making it a total two women lady justices. Lady Hale had been the only woman on the Supreme Court since her appointment in 2004 when the court was still known as the House of Lords.
Baroness Hale joins only a handful of women in the common law system to have risen to the very top of the judiciary. There are now 5 women presidents of the highest court across 11 jurisdictions; 3 of those women were appointed by either a woman prime minister or president.
Here’s a quick list and timeline of the others women presiding over their country’s judiciary:
Baroness Brenda Hale, UK
Inspired to read law at Cambridge by a conversation with her history teacher, Baroness Hale went on to lecture at Manchester University whilst also practicing part-time as a barrister. In 1989 she was appointed Queen’s Counsel. Among other firsts, Baroness Hale was also the first female to join the House of Lords as Lord Appeal in Ordinary, appointed in 2004. Now, in 2017, she has set another landmark as President of the Supreme Court. She said to the First 100 Years project: “I shall forever be grateful to the first, because she welcomed me with open arms, she didn’t put the others off me, whereas it has been known sometimes for the first woman not to want to be joined by any more”.
Read more: First 100 Years
Susan Kiefel, Australia
Susan Keifel is the highest ranking judge in Australia, having been appointed to the High Court of Australia in September 2007 and as Chief Justice since 2017. At the time of her appointment she was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island. She served as a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1993–94 before joining the Federal Court. She was admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1975 and was appointed Queen’s Counsel, in 1987. Justice Kiefel served as a part-time Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission from 2003 to 2007. She has a Masters of Laws degree from Cambridge University.
Read More: High Court of Australia
Miriam Naor, Israel
Miriam Naor is Israel’s current president of the Supreme Court but she is due to retire in 2017 due to mandatory retirement age requirements. She studied law in Jerusalem, at the Hebrew University, and joined the bar in 1972. Her early career years were spent as an attorney at the Ministry of Justice, later becoming a judge in the Jerusalem Magistrates. In May 1989, after serving as an acting judge from April 1988, she became a judge in the Jerusalem District Court. In August 2000 she was appointed deputy president of the Jerusalem court for public administration matters and from June 2001 until the end of March 2002 sat as an acting justice in the Supreme Court. This became a permanent position in June 2003.
Read More: Miriam Naor
Susan Mary Denham, Ireland
Justice Susan Denham too made history for the legal profession, when in July 2011 she was appointed the 11th Chief Justice of Ireland. She, too, was appointed to the highest judiciary office by a woman – the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. She had been a Judge of the Supreme Court since 1992. “Judge Denham was educated at Alexandra College, Dublin; University of Dublin, Trinity College; King’s Inns and Columbia University, New York, U.S.A. She was called to the Bar in 1971 and became a Senior Counsel in 1987. As a barrister she practised on the Midland Circuit and in Dublin, and had a general practice with a specialisation in Judicial Review cases. Appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1991.”
Read more: Supreme Court of Ireland
Beverley McLachlin, Canada
Justice McLachlin is the 17th and current Chief Justice of Canada and also the first woman to hold this position. She is due to retire at the end of 2017 but will be remembered as not just the first but also the longest serving Chief Justice of Canada in history. “McLachlin often stated that she envisioned no career path, and was invariably surprised when an offer would result in her rising another step up the legal ladder. However, she was also well aware of her position as a pioneer in a profession that was once an all-male preserve. She expressed satisfaction that young women lawyers perceived her as a ground-breaking role model”
Read more: Justice Mclachlin
Dame Sian Elias, New Zealand
Dame Sian was born in London of an Armenian father and Welsh mother. She became the 12th and current Chief Justice of New Zealand in 1999, thus holing the country’s highest judicial post, making history for women in law. As was not unusual for the times, she was one of the few women reading law at Auckland University’s law school in 1966. She was appointed a High Court judge in 1995 and, 4 years later, New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley appointed her as the first woman Chief Justice.
Read More: Dame Sian
Dame Jill Black’s appointment as Supreme Court judge will bring the number of women in the country’s highest court to two.
Commenting on Lady Black’s appointment, First 100 Years founder Dana Denis-Smith told Legal Cheek that the judicial appointments represented “one of the most significant landmarks for women in law.” While noting the improvement in the representation of women on the Supreme Court bench, Dana said that there was room for further progress.
“The ratio of men to women on the court still does not reflect the parity that we so need in the highest judicial forum in the country; but having a 100% uplift in the number of women — to two justices — is a step change.”
Lady Black was appointed to the High Court in 1999, assigned to the Family Division. In 2004 she became the Chairman of the Judicial Studies Board’s Family Committee, until her appointment as a Judicial Appointments Commissioner in 2008, where she served until 2013. She was appointed a Lady Justice of Appeal in 2010. She is currently the Head of International Family Justice.
The first lawyer in her family, Lady Black’s initial career at the Bar involved a broad range of criminal and civil work but she later specialised in family law. She attended Penrhos College in North Wales before studying at Durham University.
Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond has been appointed President of the Supreme Court, the first woman to become the most senior judge in the UK. She will take up the role on 2 October 2017.
A woman pioneer in law, Lady Hale has already broken the glass ceiling in the legal profession on several occasions. She was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court bench, and the first family judge to do the same. She was the first woman to be appointed to The Law Commission. Lady Hale also became the first female law lord in the House of Lords. In 2013, she was the first woman to be appointed Deputy President of the Supreme Court in 2013.
Another milestone in the history of women in the law was laid down today with the appointment of Lady Jill Black to the Supreme Court. This means that two of the 12 Supreme Court judges will be lady justices.
Watch Lady Hale’s interview with The First 100 Years where she shares her experience being the only woman Supreme Court judge.
Jamila Hassan is a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers, specialising in immigration and human rights law.
Born in Somalia and raised in Kenya and Sweden before completing her education in the UK, Jamila Hassan’s childhood was unlike that of most of her peers. Besides being multi-lingual and multi-cultural (she is fluent in Somali, Swahili, Swedish and English), Hassan knew from a young age that she was committed to social justice. She worked with female refugees in Kenya and volunteered with community organisations in Sweden and the UK.
While she was in Sweden, she founded an award-winning organisation that worked to empower marginalised individuals. Her unique life experience has shaped her career. Hassan is a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers. She specialises in immigration, human rights and public law, with expertise including judicial review and family law.
However, being different has not always been easy as Hassan discovered during her journey into the profession. Those from non-traditional backgrounds encounter a variety of challenges due to their socioeconomic backgrounds. Hassan considers passion and determination to be key to overcoming obstacles. She also discovered the importance of having role models. Hassan credits the mentorship she received from High Court judge Dame Linda Dobbs for helping her navigate her way through Bar school and pupillage.
Hassan is of the view that the Bar, and the legal profession as a whole needs to evolve, if it is to represent the diverse society that our justice system is an integral part of. As a mother and a working woman, she is lucky to be part of a supportive team, which has enabled her to develop her practice and achieve work-life balance. She understands the challenges and would like to see a comprehensive programme established to support pupils and junior barristers with care commitments.
At the end of the day, Hassan believes that being different can be an advantage.
“Ask yourself, what can being different do for me and what can I bring to the table as someone who is not the same as everyone else?”
That is her advice to aspiring lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds.
Written by Nasteya Mahamud, First 100 Years Student Ambassador
Claudine Adeyemi has been busy not only with her career as a real estate litigation lawyer since qualifying three years ago. She has also been actively making a difference in her community by supporting young people from non-traditional backgrounds in their journeys to become working professionals.
In 2014, she set up The Student Development Co, a non-profit organisation that provides youth with career-related support and advice. More recently, Adeyemi and her team launched a mobile application, Career Ear, to extend their reach to more young people. The application gives young people a platform to pose their career-related questions directly to professionals.
Adeyemi was driven to help others like her because she understood the challenges faced by young people who lacked the resources and networks to achieve their potential.
Her own journey to becoming a lawyer was fraught with obstacles. Her mother passed away when she was young and she subsequently left home due to a difficult relationship with her father. While studying her for ‘AS’ Levels, she lived in a dirty B&B and was hospitalised in between her examinations due to the poor living conditions. Despite her challenges, she achieved excellent ‘A’ level results and went on to graduate from University College London with a law degree. She qualified as a solicitor at Mischon de Reya in 2014 and is now an associate in the real estate litigation team.
Adeyemi’s dedication has earned her recognition in her legal career, her entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to diversity. She was highly commended by the Law Society in the Junior Lawyer of the Year category and was awarded the Judges Recognition award in the Women4Africa in 2016 and the Rising Star in Law award with WEAreTheCity. For work on The Student Development Co, she received the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Precious Awards, which recognises women of colour in business.
Her story inspires me because it proves that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
Written by Ndifreke Ekaette, First 100 Years Student Ambassador
Charlotte Ray (1850 – 1911) was the first African American female lawyer in the United States. She became the first female admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, and the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Ray deserves to be remembered because she fought to overcome the countless obstacles set in her path due to gender inequality and racial discrimination. Her admission was used as a precedent by women in other states who sought to be called to the bar.
Ray attended the Institution for the Education of Coloured Youth in Washington, D.C., one of a few places where a black woman could attain a proper education. Her father, Reverend Charles Bennett Ray, was an important figure in the abolitionist movement and firmly believed that his daughters, as much as his sons, should have access to education.
Upon graduating, she taught at Howard University. Shortly after, Ray decided to apply to the law programme at the University, deliberately using her initials in applying for the course. The reason for this is unknown but some have suggested that this was a tactic that she had used to hide her gender, since the university would not tolerate female applicants. She successfully secured a place in the programme.
At Howard University, Ray was described as an ‘apt scholar’ during her law degree. She received her degree in 1872 as the first woman to graduate from the Howard University School of Law. In the same year, she was called to the D.C. bar. By this point, Ray had already created history for women, especially black African women. However, Ray continued to break old norms to become the first woman to argue cases in front of the US Supreme Court.
Ray decided to open her own law firm, specialising in commercial law. She had a passion for law and the intelligence to solve many disputes. However, the prejudice she faced meant that she could no longer hold onto her business. Few clients were willing to have a black African woman to represent their case.
In 1879, Ray became a teacher in New York and got married. She continued to pursue her passion to change the world and was actively involved in the women’s suffragette movement. Ray decided that it was not only her own life that need to see change but the generations of women after her who could not lead the same lives plagued by inequality. Ray was also adamant that women of ‘colour’ achieve a legal status, and pursuing these objectives by joining the National Association of Coloured Women’s Club.
In conclusion, although Ray only had been in the legal profession for a few years, she became a role model for African American women lawyers. She was a trailblazer who not only paved the way for women’s entry into the legal profession but fought for a more equality society free of gender and racial discrimination. For these reasons, Ray’s story should not go unheard.
Written by Nadia Dileone, First 100 Years Student Ambassador
Women were allowed entry into the legal profession in 1919 but the playing field remains unequal, almost a century later.
Read about the women who are pushing for gender equality in The Guardian, featuring one of our very own First 100 Years champions, Funke Abimbola.
In times gone by, access to the legal profession was governed by three factors: Gender, social class and wealth.
In Scotland, 1901, Miss Margaret Howie Strang Hall petitioned the court asking to be admitted as a member of the then-termed Incorporated Society of Law Agents. The courts refused, referring to the Romans’ refusal to allow women to act as prosecutors. It was not until 20 years later that Miss Madge Easton Anderson became the first woman solicitor in Scotland and a further two years that Miss Margaret Kidd became the first woman advocate. Incredibly, Miss Kidd remained the only female advocate until 1948.
Judge Selection Process | Overdue Overhauls
Both England and Scotland have, relatively recently, had a considerable overhaul of the selection process for judges. Judicial selection is now much more transparent. In Scotland, the Judicial Appointments Board was introduced in 2002 and as its website states it was designed ‘to bring transparency to the selection process and to build a system in which the public, the profession and the politicians can have trust and confidence.’
In England, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 established the Judicial Appointments Commission, which is now responsible for appointing judges. The 2005 Act specifically states that appointments must be made solely on merit.
However, the U.K. still has one of the lowest proportions of female judges on its benches, according to a report by the Council of Europe. If we take a closer look, we see the Scottish legal system continues to struggle with equality in terms of appointments. As of 2016, there were only 125 women working as advocates (who represent clients in the higher courts) out of 462 people who are members of the Faculty of Advocates.
Of Scotland’s 113 QCs, only 21 are female. Further, of the 31 judges in post only nine are female. Europe-wide, systems with the lowest percentage of women among professional judges were Azerbaijan (11%), Armenia (23%), Northern Ireland (23%), Scotland (23%), England & Wales (30%) and Ireland (33%), with an overall average of 51% in Europe.
Female Judiciary Role Models
There are several inspirational women of note in the judiciary. In England, Lady Brenda Hale was appointed Deputy President of The Supreme Court in June 2013. In January 2004, Lady Hale became the United Kingdom’s first woman Lord of Appeal in Ordinary after a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer, and judge. In October 2009, she became the first (and remains the only) woman Justice of The Supreme Court. As such, Lady Hale is the most senior female judge in the United Kingdom.
Lady Dorrian QC was appointed to Scotland’s second highest judicial post as Lord Justice Clerk in 2016. This appointment made Scottish judicial history as no woman has served at this level prior to this. Lady Dorrian, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, was admitted to Faculty of Advocates in 1981 and served as Advocate Depute – the first woman to hold the position – between 1988 and 1991, and became a QC in 1994.
Lady Hale is a regular speaker about issues such as feminism, equality and human rights – and has notably been happy to be open about the ‘imposter syndrome’ that she has experienced. This characteristic affects more women than men and is the feeling that despite academic and professional success the person will be found out to be a fraud. Many studies have looked at this and found it to be a natural symptom of gaining expertise.
Success for Women in the Judiciary
Lady Dorrian has referred to only a modest amount of sexism in own her career – and that was largely in the sense that it was simply less familiar to have women appearing in court and conducting cases. She does not attribute her success to having a particularly pioneering attitude, but simply to working hard and taking opportunities that seemed sensible.
It is interesting to note that both Lady Hale and Lady Dorrian almost seem to downplay their respective success in the profession: a characteristic that people who ascend very hierarchical institutions often exhibit. Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead looks at this tendency and unsurprisingly, many of the case studies are female.
Family-Friendliness | the Bar vs Private Practice
Although not necessarily an easy option, the Bar has been considered a more ‘family friendly’ career option than private practice. Roisin Higgins QC, commented in the Scotsman newspaper that far from being a hostile environment to female advocates, there is the suggestion that for women hoping to combine a legal career with family, advocacy might offer the most family friendly path.
Remaining Challenges for Women in the Judiciary
Lady Dorrian has pointed out the real ‘challenges’ facing the future of the profession in relation to its composition, access to it and progression within it. In a recent conference, ‘Equality means Business’ in Edinburgh in May 2017, Lady Dorrian highlighted that the legal profession as a whole should be representative of the society which it serves. Without this diversity, the profession runs the risk of not being able to offer access to justice for a wide range of practice areas (often the poorly funded areas) or for a wide client base. To be respected, the legal profession has to reflect the society it represents.
Accordingly the benefits of putting equality and diversity as the focus of the profession, she points out, isn’t just about doing the right thing but is enshrined in legislation, putting duties of equality on the shoulders of employers and public authorities.
The profession should take heed and retain talent by constantly seeking to ensure it is nurtured in the correct way.
Nicola Evans has a background in commercial law having worked in-house for an international company and also having lectured in law. Nicola works as a Consultant for Obelisk Support, specialising in commercial law and providing remote, flexible services.
More women than men study law, receive training contracts and qualify as solicitors. However, the latest statistics published by Solicitors Regulation Authority indicate that only 33 per cent of partners across the UK are women.
Emma Spitz, a director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy who has more than 12 years’ experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development, shares her views on what can be done.
Read her article on The Lawyer.
Three women changed the course of history in France at the end of the 19th century. Their names are not well-known even though they contributed to women’s access to the legal profession.
Sarmiza Bilcescu was the first woman to obtain a licence to practice law. She also obtained a PhD in Law. A Romanian citizen, she was born on April 27, 1867 in Bucharest. Her parents sent her to Paris to study at the age of 17. She chose to study law at university and was the first woman to apply. She was initially refused due to the concern that her presence among the other male students would create disorder. However, the college council eventually accepted her. She obtained her licence in Law in 1887. Her thesis was titled “On the Legal Condition of the Mother in Roman Law and French Law.” She decided against applying to the French Bar because it was difficult for women to become a lawyers in France at the time. She therefore tried and was successfully admitted with full honours to the Bar association in Ilfov County (Bucharest) in 1891, although she actually never entered into practice.
Jeanne Chauvin is celebrated as the first woman to enter the French legal profession but in reality, Sophie Petit beat her to the mark. 70% of women students were foreigners at the time. Sophie Petit (nee Scheïna Léa Balachowsky) was born in Russia (modern day Ukraine) on March 16, 1870. She arrived in Paris to further her studies and wrote a thesis titled “Law and Ordinance within States that do not enforce the Separation of Powers”. Sophie took the oath before the Court of Appeal of Paris on December 6, 1900, 13 days before Jeanne Chauvin.
Jeanne Marie Marguerite Chauvin was born on April 22, 1862 in Jargeau, Loiret. She obtained a law degree on July 18, 1890 and published her thesis titled “Historical Study of the Professions Open to Women, the Influence of Semitism on changes in the Economic Position of Women in Society” on July 2, 1892. She became a teacher because she thought she would never be accepted as a lawyer. Louis Frank, a Belgian barrister and supporter of equal rights for women, persuaded her to apply for admission to the Bar. She did so on November 27, 1897 and presented herself before the Court of Appeal to take the oath. However, the Court refused her admission because it was forbidden by the law. Consequently, she fought to change the law with her brother’s help, Émile who was a lawyer and Member of Parliament. They were helped by two well-known politicians, Raymond Poincaré and René Viviani. A law was finally promulgated on November 13, 1900. Jeanne Chauvin took the oath before the Court of Appeal of Paris on December 19, 1900 and became the second French woman lawyer. In 1907, she became the first woman lawyer to plead a case.
We hosted a celebration party in support of the project attended by Lady Hale, the only woman on the UK Supreme Court, and Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court.
Barry Matthews has been a champion for diversity in Law throughout his career. He currently works at ITV where – through the Legal Social Mobility Partnership scheme – he helps law firms and in-house teams collaborate to provide ways for over 200 students from state schools to experience working in Law.
In a recent article in the Financial Times, Barry explains he wanted to create the work experience and support programme he craved as a 17-year-old growing up on a council estate, to avoid the problem repeating itself for each new generation.
LSMP’s two-week programme immerses participants in commercial organisations, backed up with training in legal and softer skills.
Another First 100 Years champion, Funke Abimbola, has recently spoken on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on how women can own their ambition, and the importance of recognising, rather than down-playing, their talent. There are of course negative connotations of women being assertive in the workplace, and although Funke says she has “softened” her approach in the workplace, she makes no apologies for being clear in her ask.
The First 100 Years Champions are challenging inequality throughout the legal sector, ensuring a bright future for all those who wish to enter into the profession.
A woman of fierce determination, Agnes Twiston Hughes qualified as a solicitor in 1923 and thus became the first Welsh woman to qualify as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Born in 1896, the younger daughter of solicitor John Williams Hughes, Agnes was trained by her father; on qualification she joined him in his practice in Conwy, North Wales and remained there until she retired in 1961 after 38 years of working in and for her local community.
A formidable woman, she came from an exceptionally determined family; her father, whose own father was a joiner and builder, finally qualified as a solicitor at the age of 41, having worked as a solicitor’s clerk since the age of 19. After training in England, he moved back to his native Wales and set up his own practice in Conwy, North Wales. Imbued with the strong Welsh belief in the value of education John Hughes sent both his daughters to the Welsh Girls School in Ashford, Middlesex and then to the Bangor County School. Fiercely intelligent, and described later as a woman who did not suffer fools gladly, Agnes not only obtained a BSc in Economics from London University but also won 3 major prizes and came first out of all candidates, male and female, in the Law Society Finals Class of 1923.
Agnes spent the whole of her life in Conwy and her entire professional life at her father’s firm, J W Hughes & Co, first as his articled clerk and eventually as its Senior Partner. In many ways her career was strikingly similar to those of male solicitors of that era, who became part of the establishment of country towns, using their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of their fellow citizens and their civic positions as one of the few ways that solicitors could legally “advertise” their services.
Agnes became first a local Councillor and then in 1954 the Mayor of Conwy. She enjoyed striding along the golf links at Conwy Golf Club bordering the sea and in 1948 was elected its Captain. To be able almost simultaneously to manage a practice and to represent her town and her golf club suggests an uncommon energy and stamina. Agnes did not marry, but then neither did almost 40% of the women who qualified as solicitors in the first decade after the passing of the 1919 Act. Perhaps she was simply too ferocious for members of the male sex. It is rumoured that she could reduce male councillors to tears and was described as “that old battleaxe” by some male members of her profession, although there were also those who would testify to her kindness and the good advice that she gave her articled clerks and younger solicitors.
Certainly she lived life to her own idiosyncratic standards, insisting that the annual church service which was part of the Mayoral Year should be held at the Welsh Methodist Chapel where she worshipped rather than at the Parish Church of St Mary which had been customary. A chain smoker, her image lingers in the memory. One of her articled clerks said with affection that “she could make you tremble in your boots. The day I qualified I went to see her sitting behind her desk in six cardigans, because the office was unheated. She smoked like a chimney. And she said to me, “Well done, Janet. I have only one thing to say to you, never assume anything my dear and good luck.”
Written by Elizabeth Cruickshank, author and Champion of First 100 Years
Photograph courtesy of The Law Society of England and Wales
The Award was in search of the brightest stories from the next generation of lawyers, to be included in the First 100 Years video library. The First 100 Years project will be running the competition annually until the centenary of the Disqualification (Removal) Act in 2019, by which time we will have named 10 women as the future’s most Inspirational Women in Law. As well as receiving one of the First 100 Years’ limited edition toilet rolls, Keily’s story (and those of our future winners) will be filmed as part of the video library project and featured here on the First 100 Years website.
Our judging panel included:
The panel of judges were given anonymised versions of our finalists’ entries, and a set of impartial criteria to judge by. The judges were unanimously impressed with Keily’s submission, and her commitment to be a mentor and champion of women in Law. Keily had this to say on winning the award:
It is a privilege to have won the Inspirational Women in Law Award 2016. 100 years ago the women who sought equal treatment to men in the social, political and professional spheres were trailblazers. In 2016, the path to entry into the legal profession for women is well trodden, however the outdated business and career models which hold back the progression of women in the law must be challenged. The responsibility to develop and champion women in the legal sector belongs to every person in the legal profession. Those at the top of our profession owe it to those who came before them and those than come after them to agitate for change. I will use this Award as a platform to continue promote the advancement of women in the legal sector and beyond.
Congratulations are also in order for our four runners-up: Georgina Wolfe (5 Essex Court), Annie Flower (Goldman Sachs), Gemma Pesce (Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council), and Claire Sng (DLA Piper). Each of our finalists received a diploma at the Spark 21 Conference on November 9th, presented to them by the Lord Chancellor Liz Truss, and will become ambassadors for the First 100 Years project. We can’t wait to hear more from these brilliant women as they continue their careers and their commitment to improving the future for women in Law.
If you would like to support Spark 21 and the First 100 Years project to continue recognising and shaping the future for women in Law, please visit our donation page. Donations of £50 or over will secure you a personalised place on the First 100 Years Donors’ wall.
Born in 1896 Mary Elaine Sykes was one of the first four women to pass the Law Society’s Final Examinations in 1922. She was the middle child of Huddersfield solicitor James Sykes and his wife Emma Amelia Turner. Her elder brother, Eric, died in France in May 1917 at the age of 22 but her younger brother, Philip Sykes, too young to volunteer to serve in the First World War, later qualified as a barrister in Lincoln’s Inn and came to be regarded as the foremost company lawyer of his generation.
Whether or not it had been Mary’s ambition to become a solicitor before the death of her elder brother, she demonstrated her intellectual determination by studying for BA and LLB degrees from London University while simultaneously working for her father and undertaking her articles. On the first day that women were enabled by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act to register their articles with the Law Society, Mary’s father rushed his daughter onto the early morning train to London so that she could be the first woman to do so. In this they were unsuccessful as it was “another girl”, most probably Katharine Elizabeth Chambers, the 24 year-old daughter of a London solicitor, who obtained that distinction.
Her father, who died in 1921, was not able to enjoy the achievement of his only daughter, when she subsequently passed the Law Society Finals in December 1922 and then was admitted as a solicitor in early 1923. However, she continued to practise with his firm until in 1930 she set up her own firm, Mary Sykes & Co and continued to demonstrate through her later life the strength of her non-conformist upbringing and the ideals of duty and responsibility with which it had imbued her.
Mary was a joiner and a contributor. A problem-solver with “an acute legal mind”, she balanced her life as a solicitor with involvement in local politics. She was a stalwart member of the Labour Party, and in a succession of “firsts” became in 1935 the only woman on Huddersfield Town Council at the same time as she was Huddersfield’s only practising woman solicitor, in 1937 the town’s first woman alderman and ultimately in 1945 the first woman to be elected as Lord Mayor of Huddersfield.
She was not afraid to fight for the rights and freedoms of all her constituents and her interests were diverse, ranging from concern for a private charged with murder in post-war occupied Germany to arguing (unsuccessfully) for municipal laundries to enhance the facilities of council housing and to make it easier for women to return to work. Indeed she saw her election to Huddersfield Council in 1935 not just as a personal achievement but most decidedly as an opportunity to assist other women. “I hope to be able to do something for the women and children of the town, particularly if I serve on the Health and Housing Committee. Considering that more than half the population of Huddersfield are women, they ought to have their interests catered for by women. I hope that my being elected to the Council will encourage more women to contest the next Municipal elections.”
Somewhat of a polymath, who could speak several languages and peppered her conversation with Shakespearean quotations, Mary was thrust by the Second World War into another unexpected activity, that of developing a remarkably self-sufficient smallholding with her friend Phyllis Kelway, a noted naturalist and writer. It was Kelway who called her “a wise little owl”, a succinct summing up of a woman whose physically small stature and diminutive hands were combined with substantial mental capacity, powers of observation and ability to organise and compute. Mary trained at least four women as solicitors and later took one of them, Dora Atkinson, into partnership.
Her success in the law and politics could be attributed not only to her legal abilities and determination but also to a puckish sense of humour. When she and a fellow Huddersfield solicitor were summoned before the Huddersfield magistrates for parking offences, they acted for each other. When found guilty and fined and asked whether she “could pay the fine now” she replied “I think I can borrow it from my solicitor,” which left the other, by now financially depleted, solicitor unable to pay his own fine, much to the amusement of the court-room.
Although through her membership of the Soroptimist Society and local business women’s luncheon clubs she frequently urged women to follow her into politics, she was forced to admit that her political commitment had made her life “one long rush”. Unsurprising then that she did not marry until 1953 when at the age of 57 she married Richard Harry Browne. Both had been past Presidents of the Huddersfield Labour Party and together members of the Huddersfield Town Council since 1937.
She continued to practise well into her seventies and died in 1981. Perhaps the best tribute to her had come much earlier from one of her fellow councillors in 1945 when he said that “Alderman Sykes is one of the first four women to be admitted as a solicitor and we are very proud of that in Huddersfield.”
Written by Elizabeth Cruickshank, author and Champion of First 100 Years
Photograph courtesy of Huddersfield Local Studies Library
The news that the U.S had voted against electing their first female President in favour of a Trump presidency, marked the tone of the start of the conference and prompted a change in the programme to include a panel debate on what the vote outcome meant for women. The panellists included Agnes Ayekpa, Dame Janet Gaymer, and Rhiannon Adams. Despite fears that mood music from across the pond might affect the discussion on equality for women in the UK, the consensus of the day was that women ought to take a leaf out of Hillary’s book, brush themselves off and continue with their ambitions.
Spark 21 was proud to have such a high calibre of panellists steering the debate at the conference. From discussing the power, as a woman, in saying “I am good at what I do” rather than explaining away success as simply ‘good luck’; to listening to men’s experience of witnessing gender inequality in Law; through to discussing the larger implications of sexism with our ‘Lessons from Other Professions’ panel — each of our speakers were insightful, engaging, and truly dedicated to improving the future for women working in Law.
Every so often, we will be reminded of the importance and urgency of the First 100 Years project. In December 2015, we had the honour of meeting and interviewing Frances Murphy of Slaughter & May. As one of the most formidable corporate lawyers in the City, she carved a reputation for excellence at a time there were few women in her field. Sadly, Frances passed away in May this year. Thanks to our interview with Frances, the First 100 Years has ensured her story has been captured so she might inspire future generations of lawyers. We played Frances’ interview at the conference, introduced by our Film producer Scott Jones – and you can watch it here.
Spark 21’s special guest at this year’s conference was the Rt. Hon Liz Truss MP, who became the first woman to hold the title of Lord Chancellor earlier this year. After commending women such as Lady Hale and Dame Linda Dobbs for their historic contributions to the legal profession, she spoke of her plans to diversify the judiciary; focusing on increasing the number of minority ethnic and female candidates making it to the top of the profession, whilst stressing the importance of talent over “box-ticking”.
The Secretary of State for Justice also mentioned the recent events concerning Brexit and the independence of the judiciary, stating: “This week’s events show the importance of the judiciary in our constitution and our free society. Our independent judiciary is vital. From the Supreme Court down, we are unrivaled around the world in having judges who are independent, impartial and incorruptible. I can think of no higher calling than joining the judiciary.”
We would like to congratulate the winner of 2016’s Inspirational Women in Law Award, Keily Blair. Our award was in search of the stories of the next generations of lawyers that can be included in the First 100 Years video library. Our judges – who had to judge the finalists on an anonymous basis – were unanimously impressed by Keily’s commitment to be a mentor and champion of women in law. As well as receiving one of our limited edition printed toilet rolls, Keily’s story will now be filmed as part of the First 100 Years project and featured on our website.
Congratulations are also in order for our four runners-up: Georgina Wolfe, Annie Flower, Gemma Pesce, and Claire Sng.
To support the project, you can make a donation via our new JustGiving page, or text FHYC00 to 70700!
Lady Hale speaks to the First 100 Years about her journey in law, her role models and the progression of women in the legal profession.
Keynote Speech by Professor Dame Carol Black of Newnham College Cambridge
*We feature excerpts from her conversation with chair, Dame Jenni Murray.
How did you start?
I had a Degree in History and a Diploma in Medical Social Work and I went into medicine at the age of 26. At school, a grammar school, I didn’t really know what a university was, certainly neither did my parents. I had a crush on the history master, which actually, put bluntly, determined that I went into the Sixth Form History. I did ‘A’ Levels in English, Geography and History, and decided to go to university to read History, which I hated.
I mean I discovered quite quickly, once I got to Bristol, that I thought it would be about people, because I’d always really been interested in how people bring about change and make things happen. And I sort of thought that history was about people changing things. And I seemed to spend my whole time thinking about constitutions and wars and I was really very bored.
I was in a hall of residence, on a corridor with a whole lot of medics and scientists. There were only two arts people on that corridor. And I began to think, “well really I think I might like to do medicine.” But it seemed such a long journey, because of course I didn’t have any ‘A’ Levels of the right subjects. And I tried to avoid it for a time. I wanted to work in a hospital, I did know that after a while.
So I then applied to Medical School, in my own university, to do what was called First MBE where in one year you could do the equivalent of your ‘A’ Levels. If you passed that you were allowed to go into the full Medical Degree. And I got a place but I had no money, so I had to go for an interview to my local education authority, which was then Leicestershire. They turned me down.
So I gave up my place in Medicine, because I didn’t have any means of funding myself. And I went on Voluntary Service Overseas, to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the West Pacific, which was fantastic. They paid me a salary, so I saved enough money. I sent a telegram, because that’s all you had in those days, back to Bristol and said, “Can I have my place back? I’d got enough money for one year. And well if I don’t pass one year, you won’t let me into the proper Medical Degree and I [won’t have to] worry about the [money] for next years after that.”
So now that you have responsibility for students, young people and young women [as the Principal in Newnham College, Cambridge], how much do you feel that you have a responsibility to be a [role] model?
Newnham, as I’m sure most of you know, is an all-female college in Cambridge. There are only three [all-female colleges] left in Cambridge. I think my prime responsibility is to provide the environment in which they will succeed as best as they can academically. But I have a huge interest in what I will call providing them, as best as I can, with the skills that will help them as they go out into life. And I think that is something we’ve really got to map in to anything we do academically.
And my observations are that many young women, when they get to university, often don’t feel as confident as they would like to feel. So we do quite a lot now to try and build their confidence. I don’t think they’re particularly good risk takers. I, without any research, would say, I observe that men are better at risk taking than the women. So I want them to be a bit more able to take risks.
How do you build their confidence and encourage them to take risks?
We’ve got two things that are happening at Newnham.
We’ve got a weekly session, it’s only an hour. We do it on a Monday nights. We call it a Life Skills course. The young women choose all the topics that they think would be important for them going forward.
So far this term we’ve done resilience and wellbeing. That was the first thing they wanted to do. [Firstly,] they wanted to know how to deal with the media [and] how to deal with having to talk to the press or the media. [Secondly,] they asked how do they deal positively and competently with their money. I was very surprised when that came up about money matters. [Thirdly, they wanted to know] how to deal with failure and criticism? When they get their supervisions back and somebody’s taken a red pen and scribbled all over it, how do you pick yourself up and say, “it’s not so bad, I am going to be okay. I am going to be able to do this.” How do they deal with this and stay motivated. [Fourthly,] they wanted something on how they could learn how to negotiate better, so they would feel more confident. And even in your earlier panel discussion, in a way being able to negotiate might have been quite important in some of those earlier discussions.
And then we have a course which we modi- or has been modified from the BBC. Remember the BBC had a programme called ‘Springboard’ for women’s development. We have one now called ‘Sprint’ which we do twice a year. Once at the end of this term for two and a half days and once at the beginning of the Lent term. It’s about understanding yourself and then building on that, to really understand how you can present yourself well and develop your confidence. And the people are properly trained to deliver that.
The other thing I’ve found quite useful is what I call Career Seminars. When I take the different careers women might go into and I get a young woman about ten years out [to speak], I found that most useful. Because if you’re still a student, to see somebody right at the top is fine, but that’s a long way away. So I found if somebody is about ten years out, they will really relate very well, and they’ll ask lots of questions as they don’t feel inhibited.
On the question of wellbeing, what sort of things does a young student need to learn about her wellbeing? Suddenly she’s probably exposed to a sex life, for the first time. I’m assuming that 18 is when young people do it these days, I could be wrong. Alcohol. No home cooking anymore, having to look after herself. What does she need to know?
I think in order to get young women to really pay attention to some of those things, I think I would almost put before it, how do I ensure her psychological wellbeing? Because I often think if young women, as they become students, do go out and perhaps drink too much, and do have perhaps some unfortunate and undesirable sexual encounters, I just wonder if they would be better if I could really help them to have a sense of their own mental wellbeing and their psychological wellbeing.
We do have a tutor that will listen to any problems. We have put in a counsellor, and I’ve found that that’s particularly helpful in helping young women sort of navigate some of these things. Not someone you go to because you’re sick, but someone who you can just go along to and say, “I’m pretty confused. I’m maybe in a mess,” without being labelled in any way as having a mental health problem, which I think is crucially important.
I try to [set an example]. I run and they see me running and they see me doing physical exercises. I try to let them know, it’s important to keep physically fit. I eat with them quite a lot. I hope – I like to think I’m a reasonable example personally of, if you like, not drinking too much and eating reasonably.
So I think there’s quite a lot about. Am I a good role model? I try to be.
Just generally, how is the idea of a women’s college regarded in the university as a whole?
In the University of Cambridge, certainly there is no pressure for us to go mixed. Murray Edwards College has a mixed fellowship. We don’t, we’re entirely female. I see it, that at the moment I don’t think there is equality necessarily in every aspect, and we’ve been hearing about it this morning. I think we’re in a mixed university where you can go to all your lectures with men, you have supervisions with men and you socialise with men. You can come home to a very safe environment, where I hope you can try and develop as a woman.
Everything we do in Newnham is run by women, so all committees are chaired by women. Anything we decide to develop or do, actually is done by a woman. We do try very hard to see ourselves as providing that space in which women can become themselves and develop themselves. It’s not right for everyone, absolutely not right for everyone and I wouldn’t advocate it for everyone. But I think there is still room for this type of problem.
I mean my biggest problem in recruiting, is that if you’ve been to an all-girls school, you probably don’t want to come to an all-girls college, unless you come and visit us and see us. If you’ve been to a mixed school, why on earth would you consider an all-women’s institution? So I have to work very hard at showing that we’re not a nunnery, and that we have lots of fun and we’re really keen to see women become powerful women with self confidence.
The Red Chair Interviews
*We feature excerpts from the many conference attendees who are brave enough to sit on our Red Chair. The idea behind the Red Chair is for people from all stages of the legal profession to share stories and thoughts for the day in the journey of celebrating women in law.
So what memories and emotions are you going to take away today?
I think it’s really [about] remembering how far we’ve come as women lawyers. It’s very, very easy to look at the problems, the issues [and] what we still need to achieve, but actually today’s been a real celebration of how far we’ve come and there have been several speakers that have made that point but we do need to remember how far we’ve come instead of constantly focusing on the issues. So I’ve been re-energised by this. I feel “wow, this is awesome. We’ve come a long way. There’s still a way to go but we have actually come a long way as women lawyers.”
What were [some of] the new [ideas] that came out of today’s [discussion]?
The new thing that really came out to me was just how important it is to get the men on board. I mean its not new in a sense but that really is the key I think to getting true gender balance: it is to make sure that you’ve got the men on board with the childcare [and] with this whole debate because it’s a half and half. It’s a two-way street here and if we keep ostracising men or leave them feeling that they are ostracised then we’re not actually going to progress. So something that I’ve taken on actually [is that] we need to really be playing out the whole “he for she”. You know, the UN’s gender equality campaign. We need to roll that out within law and get the men enrolled in this whole debate.
What inspiration should we take out of the fact that law firms already, even if it’s just through the bricks and water, have aged with the project?
We need to look at where we were with law firms, even just before the recession to now. A lot more firms have set gender diversity targets. A number of firms have formed an organisation called Prime where they’re offering work placements for social mobility to really broaden access. There’s so much activity around multiple diversity strands now and we really need to look at that, celebrate that and encourage that, and really applaud the firms that have taken a stand and are doing this because it’s a huge remove from where we were. I think we do need to celebrate those law firms.
What will you take away in terms of the project’s message and the project’s ambitions?
Well I’ll take away two things. One, things have changed a lot. When I went to Law School, in a class of 200, there were 4 women and I learnt to play darts. Now of course it’s just over half of the people that go into law are women, which is great, but the major problems still remain. The problems about how you deal with salaries and how you deal with having to take time off for families. It’s a perennial question and I think there needs to be a lot more flexibility. I had my own practice and I organised it so that I could take in what we call twilight workers. They work from 5 til 8. They were mainly legal executives, not lawyers, but it meant that they could continue. They used to come in with their babies in the carrycot. Babies went under the desk and they worked. We had arrangements where they would see clients on Saturdays when their husbands were off work. I would go in on Saturdays. We’d all have Monday off. It was a very flexible arrangement and I’m sure the large firms, because they work 24/7, could organise something like that but they don’t seem to have the will, that’s the problem.
What do you think are the big changes that need to be made if the First 100 Years could make one change?
I think its good that the government has recently introduced equal maternity rights for men. What would be really great is men stepping into that so men kind of taking the choice to take time off work. Then the whole issue about women coming back to work after having babies wouldn’t be so much of an issue if both men and women are taking time off to support that.
How important or how different is the role for women across the law from your experience?
Well I think that has been one of the very interesting things. I asked a question earlier because I’d been quite shocked at the percentage of women solicitors who are made partners and I’d always assume that the Bar where I’m at wasn’t great, but what I’ve learnt today is [a lot about] what the Bar is doing [and how] the Independent Judicial Appointments Commission [is] making diversity a requirement for promotion to be a Queen’s Counsel or to be part of the Judiciary. That’s incredibly important and that’s about embedding cultures. You’re making men and women talk about diversity in the application process to demonstrate their understanding that there are a diverse range of people that use the law and who practice the law and I think that’s going to shape [the next] generation. Now I think for me the critical question that is emerging is, ‘how are we going to speed this up?’ I’m really keen to see what happens this afternoon because I want to say to people, ‘what are we going to do to make us not have to wait another 50 years because it’s been 100 years,’ and I hadn’t quite realised that before coming today so that for me is one of the very interesting things about today.
As we look forward to the Annual Spark 21 Conference on 9 November 2016 at Simmons & Simmons LLP, we feature one of our Red Chair Interviews with Funke Abimbola from the 2015 Spark21 Conference. Please visit the website for more information on how to attend this year’s conference.
The idea behind the Red Chair is for people from all stages of the legal profession to share stories and thoughts for the day in the journey of celebrating women in law.
The Red Chair Interviews
*We feature excerpts from the many conference attendees who are brave enough to sit on our Red Chair. The idea behind the Red Chair is for people from all stages of the legal profession to share stories and thoughts for the day in the journey of celebrating women in law.
What was your expectation and your hope of what would come out of today in terms of [the] atmosphere, conversation [and] people talking about The First 100 Years?
I think for me the main thing is about reframing the debate around women and their role in law and [the] wider [profession]: to be inspired from outside and inside the profession [and] to get people to be candid about the stories they share. I think we had quite a few actually from the opening remarks of Catherine Dixon. I had no idea that she’d had something happen to her and it’s incredible that everybody carries their story with them. It’s an amazing opportunity for us where these stories actually come out. They’re not being held out in a kind of negative “look, I’m a victim” way; they’re more in terms of you know, this is how times used to be. Maybe stuff like this will still happen to women in law, but actually, let’s pause, talk about them, and draw some really strong conclusions from it and progress rather than carry them inside us and become victims because we have these secrets that we’re not sharing.
Tell us how inclusive, broad, and important it is for the project [to bring] in women of all ages from across the sector.
I think the uniqueness of this project is that it actually talks to all the aspects of the law and all the generations that have shaped the future for women. We shouldn’t be just cherry-picking the ones that we think are the right role models. One of the points made was [that] role models that we do have are [either] unattainable [or are] people that we don’t identify with. I think the project brings stories that you can genuinely identify with and they really highlight the choices people made, the difficulties they face, and how they overcame them. I think they’re really valuable things to discuss and take away: whatever [that] is relevant and [that] resonates with each one of the people that are participating. You’re not trying to get everybody to feel one way. We’re trying for everybody to learn something that has made that little small change to the way they will perform at work, [the way they] see women in the workplace, [and the way] they will support the ones that come after them.
What are the stories or the inspirational messages for you and your favourites so far?
Well that’s a really important question, because I’m actually here to pick up stories because I’m actually thinking about writing a play for the First 100 Years ….. I’m here today to earwig and collect stories. I’m really interested in the story about the first solicitor, Carrie Morrison and the chase ….. that’s quite a dramatic idea: the race down Chancery Lane. The first women QC Judge whose daughter was speaking in the first session this morning: that’s another really interesting story. Also I think it’s interesting to go back one generation and look at the women that brought those women up and what happened in the generations in between so I’m looking for stories that connect women 100 years ago to women today. I thought it was really interesting listening to Dame Carol talk about the span of her career. I know she’s not a lawyer but what’s interesting is how many different waters she has dipped her toe into and I think that’s something very interesting. Often women don’t just stick to one path. They sometimes have to be more flexible and that’s something I might reflect in the play.
I was just thinking about formats for the play. I’m not sure actually yet what it’s going to be: whether it needs to be a stage play or a radio play or whether it’ll be traditional in terms of scenes or whether it might be something like interviews with 100 women, some of whom are fictitious even and some of whom are dead. Yeah, so I’m collecting stories for today so I need to be going round asking this question to other people.
What are your sort of hopes for where the project may end up?
Well my feelings about it are that it’s a fantastic project. I think it’s really important to have staging posts like this where people can reflect on progress and reflect on where there is still improvement to be made and where the world has changed and where the world still needs to change. I should think along the Act that enabled women to study at university in 1919 obviously spawned a lot of other professions, not just the law, so I’m sure there will be other professions taking this sort of moment to see how far we’ve come. I think it’s a wonderful project. I think it’s really important that Dana has got men involved as well because women can’t change the world without men so I think its great that there are men involved in the project. I’m looking forward to the all-male panel this afternoon.
What are the most inspiring things you’ve heard so far about change and the changes that are needed?
That changes are happening. They may be slow in coming but they are happening and the importance of women supporting each other, providing a support network for one another so that we can move forward.
In 1923 Mithan Tata became the first woman called to the bar by Lincoln’s Inn and the first practising Indian woman barrister. She would have been remarkable in any era, but for those times she was extraordinary. Mithan was born into a Parsi family in Maharashtra in 1898 and spent her childhood in different parts of India as her father moved his family wherever his work in the textile industry took him. By 1913 the family was living in Bombay where her father ran a large textile mill.
Mithan was sent to good schools and graduated from Elphinstone College with a first in Economics and was winner of the much coveted Cobden Club Medal. She and her mother, Herabai, were both passionate advocates of women’s rights. Herabai had met and been inspired by Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. (Princess Sophia, a prominent suffragette, was Queen Victoria’s goddaughter and lived in Britain with her exiled family, visiting India only occasionally).
In 1919 a Royal Commission in London was considering the future of India. Herebai took Mithan, then aged 21, to London where they both gave evidence on the need for women’s suffrage to be part of the Indian reforms. Following the Commission’s report, the British enabled provincial legislatures to allow women to vote, though the only one to do so immediately was Madras in 1921.
She would have been remarkable in any era, but for those times she was extraordinary.
Mithan stayed on in London to do a master’s degree at LSE while simultaneously reading for the bar. She and her mother took rooms in 16 Tavistock Square for the next four years. During this time she went on a speaking tour, lecturing on women’s rights with local suffrage leaders.
Once called to the bar, she returned to India and enrolled in the Mumbai High Court. She was the first, and for some years the only, practising woman barrister. For reasons that are not clear (though there’s some suggestion that, as in the UK, the system did not enthusiastically embrace women) Mithan stopped practising after three years. She was appointed as a Justice of Peace and executive magistrate as well as a member of the committee on Parsi Marriage Act of 1865, which helped her to contribute to the amendment of the act that came to be known as the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936. Mithan was also a part-time Professor at the Mumbai Law College.
Mithan married Jamshed Sorab Lam, a lawyer and public notary in 1933. Their son, Sorab Lam, became a successful orthopaedic and trauma surgeon who practised and settled in this country. Mithan was very active for the rest of her life in women’s organisations and social work, such as the Matunga Labour Camp in one of the worst slums of Mumbai.
In 1947 Mithan was appointed the first woman Sheriff of Mumbai. She chaired the Women’s Committee set up for the Relief and Rehabilitation of Refugees from Pakistan. In 1962 her contribution to Indian society was recognised by the government awarding her the honour of the Padma Bhushan.
Written by Angela Holdsworth, Executive Producer of First 100 Years
In Conversation With First 100 Years Project Founder, Dana
What inspired you to create this project?
I was born in Romania and the Communism by all measures was suffering from workplace equality enforced by the state, so I grew up in a system that had equality in the workplace. And I was quite shocked when I arrived [to a law firm in the UK]. I was really astounded by the problem that woman seemed to have to advance and I was staggered by how many of my friends who were woman just never continued; they were dropping out.
So when I came across the photograph [of Dorothy Livingston as the only female partner in her law firm], which was actually in the magazine of my husband’s ex-law firm, it literally obsessed me. I was born in 1982, growing up in Communist Romania at the time and at first when I saw that there hadn’t been more than one woman, I was just amazed that women had been held back. I had come here with this kind of promise of the better world outside communism and yet women had been held back to some extent, more than where I’d come from. So it really was just a view from outside I think that got me going and the photograph just crystalized it all.
So what are you hoping to achieve with this project?
I think it’s a very important thing to record the contribution of woman in the profession to create that continuity. It’s really important to have a coherent narrative that sets out the achievements that went before us. I think that was one of the things that we miss, I miss. I didn’t stay in law. I ended up running my own business and leaving quite with ease. Now I had made a decision to change course from a job I loved as a journalist to become a lawyer, only then to drop out relatively easily because I just didn’t see the point of queuing for another ten years to get to the top… to maybe get to the top.
What is the long term aim then? Where do you really hope to get in the long term [with the project]?
So the project runs for another four years. It runs to the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to be in law. For that anniversary year we have a lot of things planned, including recording 100 films like the one you’ve seen. Dame Linda Dobbs and Shami Chakrabarti have been filmed as part of the project, so we want to produce 100 films of role models that people can play in their own time, whether their university have famous people or not, because that’s the other thing. If you haven’t been to a famous university you won’t have anybody famous to come to visit, which means you don’t have a role model. So in the digital age, this is a digital archive for anybody to access. We want to get as many stories of people that we should know about but we have never heard of. We recently had a story from the family of the first woman lawyer in the Foreign Office. It was sent by her family when they came across the project. It’s an incredible story and those are the stories we’re looking for.
Mercy Ashworth was called to the bar on 26 January 1923 at the same time as Mithan Tata. They were the first two women from Lincoln’s Inn. At the age of 54, Mercy had waited a long time for to be called. Mercy’s age was not unusual amongst the early barristers. Cornelia Sorabji, Amy Edwards and Emily Phipps were all even older.
Mercy, ‘Cissy’, was the daughter of a hat manufacturer and was well educated; first at University College, Aberystwyth, and then between 1895 and 1897 she read moral sciences at Girton. She lectured for a few years at Homerton College, Cambridge. In 1905 Mercy left for India where she worked as a schools’ inspector, returning to London before the outbreak of war. She became an active member of the Women’s University Settlement in London. This was an organisation founded in the 1880s by among others Octavia Hill, the social reformer, and Helen Gladstone, the Prime Minister’s daughter. The idea was to encourage University-educated women to settle in deprived areas so they could help women and children by increasing educational and recreational opportunities for them through evening classes, clubs and Saturday school. Women lived rent-free in the settlement in return for the work they did. They also collaborated with nursing associations to improve health and sanitation.
After being called to the bar Mercy had chambers in Lincoln’s Inn for many years and was listed on the south-eastern circuit. How much she practised is not clear. There is mention of her appearing in a landlord and tenant case (Trickebank v Brett 1934) but tracking how much of a practice a barrister had in those days is difficult. Barristers did not need to take out an annual practising certificate and their inclusion in the Law List is not a reliable indicator. Mercy, herself, was unsure what the future held. Interviewed at the time of her call by the Daily Chronicle, she said, ‘None of us knows yet what the future of women barristers is likely to be. It depends so much on the attitude of solicitors.’ Prescient words. The small number of women called to the bar in the early years faced numerous difficulties of which the reluctance of solicitors to instruct women was a major hurdle.
Written by Angela Holdsworth, First 100 Years Executive Producer
Panel 3: What role do men have in helping women progress? How men have helped, and can continue to help, women in the profession?
*We feature excerpts from panel discussions with Dan Fitz, Lord Hodge, Malcolm Richardson and Fizel Nejabat.
Dan, what have you done to help women progress?
Specifically, among the things I’ve done is helped champion bringing women forward in the in-house profession and point out to them that there are options other than law firms and the bar that they can explore, that will offer them equally invigorating career but perhaps be more accommodating of life’s ebbs and flows.
Now I’m not saying that it’s the best for all, but I think that women would be remiss if they didn’t consider the in- house track as a way to have that balanced life and career that I think all of us want – men and women – at various times. So if I were to say specifically that is one thing I’ve done, it would be that. Although I hasten to add it is not the only things I’ve done.
The other thing I think I’ve done along with many many others is to give men and women, but women in particular, permission to talk about what they want to do with their lives. We do tend to talk about just the career but the career is not what it’s all about. It is an important part of what it’s all about and I think it should be absolutely fine to put all of your hopes and dreams on the table when you are having that career conversation. And not somehow feel constrained that you have to decide on whether you are going to be a mother or not before you decide what seat you are going to take for heaven sake. The answer is absolutely not but until you hear that from someone in authority be it a man or a woman, people will go around wondering about that. So having the honest conversation and opening it up that there are no wrong preferences here, there are just a series of options given what your preferences are, is an important part of what men can do and should do. So long as we are the ones, temporarily still sitting in seats of power.
How about you, Patrick?
Well, I’ve long been sympathetic with the cause of encouraging women, not least because I had an issue close to home. My wife is a member of a different profession but she was subjected to seriously discriminatory behaviour. And when I was still at the bar in practice, I helped her mount the disciplinary proceedings which achieved a satisfactory outcome.
How have I helped other lawyers? Well I should say first of all, you could probably tell from my voice that I come from North of the border. And so until two years ago I was a judge in Scotland and before that was an advocate in the Scottish Courts. How have I helped my colleagues there? Well, certainly when I was at the bar, I encouraged the pupils to achieve what they could achieve and to aim to take on challenges.
More recently when I became a judge, I have encouraged my former female colleagues at the bar to go for posts such as a public prosecutor, a tribunal judge, a Sheriff – that is the equivalent of a circuit judge. Two of the last three female appointees at Scottish Court of Session bench, I gave the lead reference for. So I’ve tried to encourage, having seen what my wife went through, I’ve tried to encourage my colleagues to achieve what they can.
Malcolm, what have you done?
When I was thinking about coming here I look out of my window in my office in the MA [and] there’s a big plaque with ten key dates concerning the Justice of the Peace. The first one being 1361 which is when the office was created. But almost the last one on there was 1919 which was the appointment of the first female magistrate, Ada Summers. [Today] 52% of magistrates are women. We achieved I think gender equality before that term was even coined. The association has been led by women for the majority of the last 25 years. So you know from that point of view I could say, well we don’t have a problem. The rest of the judiciary were in as good a state as we are. But then reflecting on it and thinking about what discrimination is there, the biggest source of discrimination for the magistracy which I know that this audience will well understand, is that of a voluntary part-time unpaid position.
But actually it’s to that point really because the discrimination that we are seeing is discrimination against employed people being able to take on this role. When I first became a magistrate 25 year ago, I was employed by IBM, and IBM saw it as an integral part of their corporate social responsibility, to enable people to have paid time off to do jobs that were of social use. Only five years after that, by the time I left them, the attitude had already started to change really quite significantly, and there were questions being asked about whether or not you needed to take that day off, or you needed to go to that meeting, or you needed to sit on that particular day – and that just got worse and it has affected the public sector employment area just as much as the private sector now and that hung on a bit longer.
And then actually thinking about it and reflecting on it really today as I was sitting and listening to some of the earlier pieces, that actually that discrimination is disproportionately affecting women. Because you already have to cope with the discrimination which comes from the decision to have children and the career breaks that come with that, however short they might be. Then to go back into the workplace and say by the way, not only have I just had six months off but now I would like you to consider allowing me to have a day a month or a couple of days a month off to go and do something of use to the community. I can well imagine what the response is going to be from any but the most enlightened employers. So I think there is a real challenge there and I don’t think it is something which we as an organisation have actually banged on about enough. My only defence for that is that the magistracy has been going through a huge reductions in numbers for all sorts of reasons. The alleged reduction in crime, certainly a reduction in the number of cases that are being brought to court means that there needs to be less magistrates. So it is not a very sensible thing to go banging on about when you are not actually appointing many people. We are starting to turn the corner on that. For the next couple of years whilst I’m in office [as Chairman], I think it is something which I need to bang on much more about.
Faizal, how would you as a trainee improve the gender balance in the profession you’re probably going to be in for quite a while?
I mean where does one begin? I think I alluded to the fact earlier that as a male in this position you see the gender imbalance and you see some of the imbalances that women face. It’s incumbent on us to talk out and you can’t just wait for somebody else to complain about their problem. If you can see that that person has a problem, and they are not necessarily forthcoming with it, it is your duty to speak out.
And granted that I am a trainee but I will give you some tiny examples. A lot of letters I see sent between law firms still say ‘Dear Sirs’, as though there are no women in the legal profession, as though this letter isn’t addressed to women at all – it’s a very small point but it is quite reflective of the attitude that sort of gets taken. Another sort of thing that we raised that you sort of speak out about, is how one comes across in how they are dressed. Women, unless they’re wearing high heels, some people would say that looks unprofessional, and I would say ‘why?’ I mean one of the trainees was saying, ‘oh, I had quite a lot of difficulty the other day. I had to get on the train. I was standing [and] my feet were uncomfortable so I tried to change my shoes. But then I couldn’t change my shoes because everyone was looking at me’. I was like, ‘I get on the train and I read The Metro’, just the daily sort of problems that you do not have to deal with as a man but as women you do have to deal with. And this is even before you get to some of the bigger stuff.
And if I am just going to sit there in silence as a young male trainee, then people in positions of authority are going to think well there is enough of a contingent here that we can get those guys up and the troublemakers we can sort of keep them quiet. But that is not necessarily the kind of environment that is good for me because if one day something happens or there is a change in attitude or a shift in attitude, which doesn’t necessarily benefit me, I’m going to be stuck. So there is a self interest element to it as well. But actually there is just an element of common sense and equality. Speak out about these things and let people know that actually some things are not quite acceptable.
Panel 2: Reflections on progress to date: How far have women come? How far do women have to go to achieve true equality in the profession?
*We feature excerpts from panel discussions with Dorothy Livingston, Sasha Barton, Amarjit Khera, Kate Morrison-Betts and Josephine Macintosh.
Dorothy, what was it like to be the only woman in [the picture that inspired this project]?
I think at the time, the main thing I was recovering from was the struggle to get out of the door, which was closed behind us, because the staff took a little convincing that there was a woman who was going to actually be in the picture. But it was a strange feeling and I think I appreciated that if I was in the middle, I was going to make quite a statement, and I did actually try to go backwards after a couple of pictures and was firmly told by a senior partner who I was standing next to, to stay where I was, my dear. So I did. So I am in the centre of every one of these pictures and I am very proud that it has inspired this initiative to record our progress and where we’re still falling short.
And you have brought another photograph with you today which does show there has been some progress, does it not?
Yes. This is a photograph which I will arrange to be available. It shows a retirement dinner for one of my partners who was also the senior partner of the firm, held by our department and there are five women who constitute half the senior women in the London bit of our department in this picture, and about seven men, I think. So that’s pretty good progress in the right direction, I think.
The rest of the firm does not have anywhere else which has such a concentration of women and I think we have a good way to go. Now we have targets and our target is to have 30 per cent of women in the worldwide partnership. So this includes our offices in many jurisdictions, not just London, and to have 30 per cent in senior management of the firm, which is the equivalent, I suppose, of a corporate target for the Board. One of our two joint worldwide managing partners is currently a women.
Kate, how surprising is it to someone of your age to find that so short a time ago, 1982, Dorothy was the only one in that picture? And in 1919, 99 years ago, women weren’t even allowed to practice?
I think it shows how far we’ve come in a relatively [short] period of time, but I feel that has also been used as an excuse not to progress further. Just kind of accepting the growth that has happened in the past 100 years is almost an excuse not to push harder and I find that that is an attitude among my peers that I find really frustrating because we have ratios that are almost 50:50 at undergraduate level and that is used as a reason not to push a little bit harder. And then you see the percentages just get lower and lower and lower as you move up the profession. That’s something that I’m quite passionate about changing.
I’ve actually experienced, I mean I’m only 21, but quite a hefty amount of sexism at university. It’s a lot more casual that you’d expect. We’ve had a lot of formal change, but I think casual sexism is something that’s a little bit harder to combat because the source is more uncertain. With legislation you can make changes, but I think it’s the casual stuff that I find harder to deal with.
Josephine, how much are you getting this kind of attitude?
I think it’s interesting because I didn’t feel that so much at university, but more when I was younger at school: in middle school and high school. I was relatively outspoken as I kind of felt like the jokes tended to be just really vulgar jokes. So it gets to the point that you almost try to shame the person who’s speaking that way, through the way that you react to their joke. So whether it is speaking up and saying “This is wrong,” or just not laughing. That will break down a bit of the peer pressure environment that is around these jokes. I don’t believe that a lot of the boys or men who engage in that have always thought about what they’re saying, and also not all of them probably even find that extremely funny, but took part as sort of a laddish behaviour. I think that can be quite combated if people just don’t engage and don’t give into peer pressure.
I think you hear [the word ‘banter’] a lot and you can then use it to excuse anything. I’ve had friends who would make anti-semitic jokes or racist jokes. How are we okay with telling them that that’s not alright while we have to take sexist jokes? I really don’t see where the line is.
How have you dealt with things like this, Sasha? You must have come across it in the past as well?
I deal with a lot of failures to protect the vulnerable victims of rape and sexual assault and you’re in the court room and often you’ll have for example, a male barrister just making some joke which goes to the heart of what has happened. Sort of [ha ha ha] and the judge is laughing along and you’re sitting there as a solicitor and there’s obviously nothing you can say. You’ve got your client with you and you’re just thinking “how is that okay?” And where do you even begin with challenging that kind of thing?
I haven’t had a judge saying these stuff, but I have had the judge laughing along in an ‘old boys’ kind of way. Often a row of Police Officers sitting behind would all chuckle to themselves. And you are in that situation where you just sort of observe and you just think “What?” I think it’s different in a personal setting and I think it’s an interesting line to find. You don’t want to come across as being humanist, but equally it’s finding that right line of saying, “That’s not okay,” whilst not sort of acting up.
Amarjit, how would you have handled it in a magistrate’s court if the sort of thing that Sasha has been describing, had been going on. Let’s say with the Police laughing or a lawyer making those kind of jokes?
It was a very underprivileged area where I was a magistrate, Feltham. And the Police and my colleagues, we all were representative of that population. So there are so many things I don’t even remember, but then it was very, very difficult. Even the Clerk would shake his head. He would not know what to say when the Police Officers made jokes about different things, “Oh, these people are always like that.” They were mainly racist jokes. Not female jokes, but racist jokes, and half of them I didn’t even understand because I was not used to that sort of language.
The Clerk would just go quiet because I was there. He was very, very sensitive. He was an elderly man incidentally, in his sixties, nearly retiring, and he was the only one in fact who befriended me. That’s why he was very protective and he would handle it mainly because I would be shocked as I didn’t know what to do. But now it’s a different matter. In those days I literally did not know how to react or what to say or how to get on with this.
[There was a case about] an Asian woman in a sari [who] was walking in a park and teenage boys were throwing stones at her, lighting the match and throwing at her. She was obviously very scared and she pursued and the Police was called. The Police who were giving evidence said “Oh, these boys were just larking about.” My senior colleague also said “Yeah, they were young children. They were just larking about. Nothing serious about it.” “How could it not be serious,” I said. That was the first time I said, “How can you say this? If I was in that position, I’ll be terrified. I probably will have a heart attack.” And then the whole scenario was changed. It’s not that because I was thinking rationally. I was thinking more emotionally, that if I was in that position, what will happen to me? And when I spoke like that, I think they took notice of it. So this was a more emotional reaction that helps rather than rational arguments.
Panel 1: Where did it all begin? Setting the context of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and the historical journey of women in the legal profession.
*We feature excerpts from panel discussions with Hilary Heilbron, Elizabeth Cruickshank, Judith Bourne, and Mari Takayanagi.
Mari, what sort of lobbying took place to get that first change in the Law in 1919?
I think you have to put the struggle of women to enter the legal profession in sort of a wider context of women’s struggle for equality, which started way back. But certainly [it started] from the mid 19th century when the organised campaign groups [fought] for women to have a parliamentary vote. Along with that was the entrance of women’s higher education with the formation of Women’s Colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, and the admission of women to places like UCL and University of Manchester which meant that women started to do Law degrees.
In the cases of Oxford and Cambridge [however, women] were allowed to sit all the exams and get a result but not actually be awarded the degree, because they didn’t allow it. In other places, [women were] awarded a degree but [were not] able to practice. Christabel Pankhurst, for example, the well-known suffragette, took a law degree but couldn’t practice. Gwyneth Bebb took [her case to court, giving] her name to the court case, “Bebb versus Law Society”.
And that I think is the most visible representation of a broader struggle by women who were small in number, but well educated and determined, and with the support, we shouldn’t forget, of some men MP’s and some barristers of the time. [These are] people like Lord Buckmaster and Lord Robert Cecil, who were well known men at the time [who] pushed the cause of these women. So that was all happening in conjunction, at the same time [with] women struggling to get into many other professions and to get the parliamentary vote. The reason for this being that women wanted to equalise the law. It’s a phrase we’ve heard recently: women didn’t want to be law-breakers, they wanted to be law-makers.
Part of that was becoming lawyers or getting the right to sit in parliament as MP’s, to try and make the law and change it in order to equalise unequal laws at the time, in areas like property, marriage, divorce, pensions, age of consent, the double morality standard and so on. And I think the reason why it became possible in 1919 and not before, was at least in part because women by this point had, some women at least, had a parliamentary vote. So in 1918, at the end of the First World War, women who had reached certain property qualifications and were over the age of thirty, were able to vote for the first time in parliamentary elections and a separate act passed at the same time allowed women to stand as MP’s for the first time.
As a result of this, it can’t be coincidental that the election manifesto’s that year in December 1918, from both the Conservative and Liberal Coalition, and from the Labour party in the opposition, supported at least in theory in their manifesto’s that they saw it as their duty to remove gender inequalities and as a result of that, for the first time you get legislation introduced into parliament the following year in 1919.
Judith, who are the really important women historically who have made a difference for other women by becoming lawyers?
So my research has been on Helena Normanton, so she for me stands as that icon. She was the person who pushed back boundaries and really sacrificed her own life, that sounds really dramatic, but I think that’s absolutely true. She suffered lots of criticism, but she just carried on. She was completely focused on her role in life, [which] was to open the bar to women.
She’s from very humble beginnings. Her father and mother separated which makes her quite unusual probably, because she came from separated parents. And then her father very mysteriously died near Paddington Station, committed suicide I imagine. And then her mother, in order to support her children, moved from place to place and eventually moved back to Brighton where her mother and her sisters were, and she works as a boarding house keeper. So she has very, very humble beginnings, but her mother’s philosophy is ‘you mustn’t ever rely on a man, and you have to be educated in order to support yourself’, and that’s really what she instills in her daughters. So one daughter becomes a nurse, and Normanton herself becomes obviously, eventually, a barrister. But before that she’s trained as a teacher. And she doesn’t get married in fact, until she’s in her forties when she’s qualified at the bar, but she had really struggled with being a history teacher because she was so anti-imperialist, that she was a teacher of history and she couldn’t get over the hypocrisy that England had in terms of teaching history and teaching about the Empire and how it was supposed to be a good thing. She completely disapproved of that.
So she was very unusual, very, very unusual. But her whole mission in life, it began at twelve when she sat in the solicitors office with her mother for mortgage advice, and the solicitor was very patronising to her mother, perhaps that’s debatable because perhaps he was just explaining and Normanton took it in the wrong way. But she said that when the solicitor gave advice to her mother, her mother couldn’t understand and he said ‘well I think your daughter understands’, and he made Helena Normanton recite what the solicitor was saying and she did it perfectly as she completely understood. And he said ‘well, you’re quite the little lawyer, and perhaps you’ll be a lawyer when you grow up’, and she said to herself ‘right, I will be. That’s what I will do’. So it’s at twelve that that dream of being a barrister is born.
You can say ‘well she wasn’t successful in terms of her career. Her practice wasn’t enormous and she did very low level, poor persons criminal work’. But she was successful in as much as she kept on practicing. She practiced right up until she retired in 1951. Her absolute objective was just to keep working, to keep on breaking down the stereotype that women can’t be lawyers, that they can and she was living proof that you could.
Elizabeth, who are your real heroes?
This is really quite interesting. I was nodding a lot while Judith was speaking, for several reasons. One is that there were women practising law for many years before we had the Bebb case or the Sex Disqualification Removal Act, but they were not qualified in the sense of somebody saying ‘you are an admitted solicitor or you’re called to the bar’. They were working in legal offices. One famous lady Eliza Orme, who more or less did everything that she possibly could working as what’s called a ‘devil’, writing papers [and] doing research for qualified solicitors and barristers. And she was operating at the end of the 19th Century.
But what was possibly even more interesting was the number of women who were working in legal offices, as what we would call probably ‘legal executives’. Now, they worked there for many years. They specialised in particular areas of the Law, and they probably knew a lot more than a lot of the young solicitors they were supposedly working for. And it’s quite interesting that several of those who qualified, when the Act was passed, had been doing this for many years. In fact the background of some of them is interesting. There is one young woman whose father was a Russian emigre and a hotel waiter. She somehow got herself a job in a legal office, and when the Act came through, she got articles with her principal, and she came first in the 1924 finals examinations in the Law Society. And she must have known bucket loads of Law by that time.
Also, Carrie Morrison. Now that’s an interesting person, and there are definitely some parallels with Helena’s background. They’re not totally the same. Her mother was the daughter of a shepherd from Lincolnshire, who was illiterate. Sadly unlike Helena, she had nobody in her family who was keeping records of her life. She did marry, but she had no children. Her father by this time had become a wealthy metal broker in the city of London, which is a whole other interesting story in itself. Her mother had been a cook, to a Minister of the Church of England, so I would imagine that she had very strong moral principles. As a result of the relationship between her parents, Carrie ended up travelling the world, because of her father’s business, so she was educated variously in this country, in Italy, in France, in Spain and in Germany. She was able to go to Manchester High School for Girls in 1904, where she astonished everybody with her facility with languages, and her ability to write. She won two scholarships, one to Girton, and one from her school. She went to Girton College, then tried teaching and she was honest enough to say later that she hated it and it wasn’t good for the children so she’d do something else.
She wanted to train as a secretary so she could become a Parliamentary secretary, but then the War intervened. So she worked for various organisations including MI5. In any event, the reason that she became the first woman solicitor is actually far more interesting than having a race down Chancery Lane although that has acquired apocryphal status. The reason is that at the end of the War, she was working for the Army of the Black Sea in Constantinople. Now, a lot of solicitors and article clerks were killed during the First World War, so there were simply, believe it or not, not enough solicitors. So the Law Society relaxed the rules for qualification. And they said that those people, it started off as being those men of course, who had done important military work during the war, were excused a year of their articles. So she was in fact required to do only two years’ articles instead of three. So although four women did in fact sit the finals examination, at the end of 1922, she was the first woman who could possibly be admitted as a solicitor. And that is why, because her articles finished sooner. In fact, I think she was an extraordinarily appropriate person.
Hilary, what was your mother[Dame Rose Heilbron QC]’s early experience?
Well, I think she really just got on with the job, because there was nobody really to follow. She was very much a pioneer; she started in the war period, in practice at the bar, when a lot of the men of course were away at the war. And she developed a substantial practice which she kept after they came back. I think it was probably later on when she was establishing herself that the first signs of prejudice really emerged, and when I was researching for her biography I couldn’t find anything in the earlier years. I think it was just so novel, everything she did was reported in the press as being something unusual. A woman appears in Birkenhead Magistrates Court, Woman Barrister, every little thing was new in those days. And I think particularly when she got married and had me; to have a working mother was again something which was very unusual.
I think the prejudice set in, or became obvious when she tried to progress through the profession, because she had to wait much longer for most things than she would have done had she been a man. And obviously there was unspoken prejudice which you can’t actually see, but undoubtedly it existed, amongst the men at the bar. And I assume probably from amongst some of the judges. But as I said, I think it was there, obviously, and perhaps more blatant in the later years, trying to get up the ladder.
And what did your mother [Dame Rose Heilbron QC] do to help other women?
My mother, simply by her achievements, at the time it was very rare, had a lot of publicity. She was the first woman Queen’s Counsel, along with Helena Normanton who was the first woman judge, first woman bencher, first woman treasurer, first woman to sit at the Old Bailey and a whole string of things. Each of these got a lot of publicity as did her cases. And it encouraged, undoubtedly I’ve been told, it encouraged a lot of other women to come to the profession. For example, of the first few High Court judges, five of them came from the Northern Circuit around Liverpool and Manchester, where she practiced. She was really in that area, a household name. So I think that in itself, if you have somebody who has achieved something, it gives other people encouragement that it can be done. She used to talk a lot, because she was asked to speak on equal pay and a lot of [other] things that in those days people would blink their eyes. She was very much ahead of her time – equal opportunity for women – and again that was all reported in the press. And then at a personal level she helped younger members of the bar if they were looking for pupillage, and things like that. Or, in other ways she would help them. So I think at those three levels she assisted women.
Opening Remark by Catherine Dixon, Chief Executive of the Law Society.
Ladies and gentleman, it is a privilege to open today’s SPARK 21 Conference and to support the ‘First 100 Years project’.
Let’s start our journey at the end of the 19th century.
At this time, women were not considered persons within the meaning of the Solicitors Act of 1843, and therefore could not become solicitors.
Under common law women were considered to be under a general disability by reason of their sex.
Gwyneth Bebb decided that she was not very happy about this, and in 1913 she brought court proceedings against the Law Society, asking for a declaration that she be considered – a ‘person’.
Unfortunately, the court decided that Gwyneth was not a person, and in spite of taking her case to the court of appeal, the refusal to admit women as solicitors on the basis they were disabled and not people continued.
It took a further six years before the first Sex Disqualification Act was passed, and in 1919 women were finally allowed to practice law.
We have a lot to thank Gwyneth Bebb for. If she hadn’t made her challenge, the future of the legal profession could have been very different.
Maud Crofts, Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup and Mary Sykes were the first women to pass their solicitors examinations in 1922.
But who would be the first woman solicitor?
To determine who should be admitted first, they ran a race along Chancery Lane.
The first to burst through the doors of Chancery Lane – no doubt with her elbows out – was Carrie Morrison, who went on to become the first woman solicitor.
Nine years after Carrie Morrison and her peers were admitted, 100 women had qualified as solicitors.
So – lets fast forward 93 years. What are we seeing?
These statistics seem to paint a promising picture – but lets take a closer look at the evidence:
Women’s skills and abilities continue to be underused in the profession.
While the position of women solicitors has improved since 1922, gender inequality remains a relevant issue today.
So why are women leaving?
Evidence suggests work-life balance is a problem.
Some women fear asking their employers for flexible work arrangements as this request could be seen as a lack of commitment to their jobs.
This puts women under pressure and some vote with their feet and leave the sector, taking with them their knowledge and experience.
Interestingly, a greater percentage of women decide to work in-house, where perhaps more employers have recognised the benefit of flexible working policies as a way of attracting and keeping the best employees.
There are great benefits of gender equality. For instance:
I believe that it is essential that the legal community recognises the contribution women can make at a senior level, and where they are loosing talented women, take steps to retain their knowledge and experience.
The Philosopher George Santayana said: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
We believe that the legacy of the ‘First 100 years project’ will be to immortalise the contribution of women to the legal profession.
Their stories, struggles and successes will be a lasting testament to their contributions.
The Law Society of England and Wales is proud to be an official partner of the project.
As part of our commitment we have:
I invite you to support this project, including providing stories, promoting the project and, if you can, contributing financially.
We have come a long way since 1922 and Gwyneth Bebb – but we must not forget the past.
Helena Kennedy QC is right to say that ‘women’s struggles are not over’.
When I was an articled clerk, I was asked to wash up the partners mugs because I was a woman. I think it is safe to say that I refused this request not because I minded washing up – but I did mind having to do it because I am a woman. Anyway, the partners had to put up with dirty mugs for their morning coffee.
But also and more seriously, I felt that I had to work harder and outperform my male colleagues to get the same recognition.
There is still more to be done to ensure that women’s skills and contributions are recognised throughout our profession – at every level.
The stories collected through the ‘First 100 years project’ are just the start.
It is essential that this information is used to support cultural change within our profession – Gwyneth Bebb, Carrie Morrison and all our women colleagues deserve no less.
Thank you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.
**The transcript can also be found at the Law Society website.
In September 2016, Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the First 100 Years project, introduced the project to employees of a large multinational banking organisation. Her speech at the presentation was titled, Why We Must Not Succumb to “Diversity Fatigue’.
The First 100 Years project started with a photograph. I happened to glance it as I browsed the alumni magazine of a top City law firm. It resonated with me very strongly and I found myself returning to that photograph over and over. The year it was taken – 1982 – together with the one central, lonely woman in it, surrounded by a group of 50 or so men attending a black tie event – seemed to me to capture the essence not just of the times in which it was taken – a time when women were only just starting to be allowed to get a mortgage or buy a drink in the pub without a man. To me, it went beyond that – it was a visible sign of a quiet revolution – in which women’s participation in the workplace was finally elevating them to the top ranks, previously only open to men. Although alone in that group photograph, she was no longer alone in the legal profession.
I didn’t know then that the woman in the middle of this group was called Dorothy; her name was not mentioned in the capture below it. But I remember clearly that fateful November Saturday, in 2013, when I tweeted the photograph to the law firm and asked who was the woman in the middle. I felt totally swept away by this discovery and embarked on a journey – a little bit like in the children’s novel, I found myself on a winding yellow brick road, looking for the story behind the picture, and trying to understand not just how did it feel to be the only one, but where did it all begin?
Why is this important that we should understand the full journey of women in the professions? Because it makes us being here today more relevant and explains why you should know about the First 100 Years – because without understanding the past we have no context for our analysis of the present, and we can be misguided and [may] even celebrate too soon. American political figure Mario Cuomo once said: “we are here to remind ourselves where we come from and to claim the future for ourselves and for our children”. His phrase captures perfectly the mission of the project.
So, where did women in the professional workplace come from? It’s a number again – and luckily an easy one to remember. 1919. It was in that year that a parliamentary act was passed. It started with a clear statement: “A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation.” The Sexual Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 laid the foundation for all equality legislation that was to come in the 20th Century and made it possible for women to enter the professions – to be lawyers, accountants, members of the jury and so on. Virginia Woolf called it ‘the sacred year of 1919’ but there were many critics of the Act – for not being more radical. For example, the rights for married women were still viewed as a property of the husband. One must remember that rape in marriage was only criminalized in the 1990s.
But despite the Act, the ranks of the professions didn’t swell with women until much later – when the first generations started to graduate from universities in larger numbers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The early women in the professions were often forced to work by losing their husbands and having to take over their practices. So after the initial enthusiasm of the 1920s, aided by the hard facts of a post-war economic slump which needed women to step into the jobs of their brothers or fathers who died in WWI, women took a back step again from the workplace returning for the war effort during WWII briefly. But the aftermath of WWII couldn’t be more different than that of WWI – the rebuilding of the country led to policies around full employment for men and few opportunities for women. Being a married woman who worked reflected badly on the husband’s means and ability to be a breadwinner so it was widely unfashionable. So often even if women started their careers in a professional job, they would renounce on marriage or, quite often, would lose their job upon marrying.
Professional organisations were slow adopters of women – the Law Society created a special women’s wing in its building in 1961 – although it sounded like a caring thing to do, I am sure women would have much preferred to have been allowed to walk freely anywhere in the Law Society building. Their access to the reading room was restricted until 1977 – that’s 55 years after the first 4 women entered the profession in 1922. I found that men often did not set out to hinder a woman’s progress at work – more often than not, it was comfort and a ‘no need to rock the boat’ attitude that maintained the status quo and kept women out. It is certainly what we discovered during the project’s time to date. When asked who is behind the lawyer they are today, men often cite a female teacher or a woman mentor in their first job as the determining factor – not only of choosing their career, but also guiding them to succeed. But there is little visibility of these female role models.
First 100 Years set out to change that and has committed to make 100 video stories built around female role models across the profession – from Baroness Hale, Cherie Blair, whom we are filming later today, or lesser known figures such as Joyce Gutteridge, the first legal advisor to the Foreign Office. The project has a distinct timeline – running up to the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Act – after which the whole archive will be donated to the nation to be used as an educational resource. I was also keen that the tone of the project was accessible beyond the legal profession – this isn’t an academic project. It is a project that tells engaging and inspiring stories of the many women in law – famous or not – but that can appeal to those that would have never considered a path in the legal professions. But as we tell the personal stories of these women, we discover there is universality in their advice that transcends the legal profession – they are about how to forge a path as a woman in the workplace, how to navigate challenges and how to ensure you set your own definition of success and achieve it.
Cuomo also said that we ‘campaign in poetry, and govern in prose’. And this is so true with diversity. Dame Linda Dobbs, who was the first black High Court Judge, put it very eloquently: “diversity fatigue is the greatest challenge at the moment. People think we have done diversity, but actually we are not yet in the mainstream when it comes to diversity”.
But I must conclude with Baroness Hale, the most senior woman lawyer in the land and also the only woman on the Supreme Court. She said to us: “I was the second woman in the chambers that I joined, and I shall forever be grateful to the first, because she welcomed me with open arms. She didn’t put the others off me, whereas it has been known sometimes for the first woman not to want to be joined by any more. I was the second woman in the Court of Appeal, and again, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss didn’t pull up the drawbridge behind her at all.” We must remember the pioneers but become pioneers ourselves as the pursuit of equality goes on.
As part of the First 100 Years’ commitment to celebrate women pioneers in law, we have launched the Inspirational Women in Law Award in our search for 10 women in law that will become the trailblazers of their generation, driving the change we need to see in the legal sector to ensure that gender equality becomes a reality. Nominate someone by midnight today!
These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with Ruth Lady Morris of Kenwood. The video is currently being produced and will be released shortly.
Let me start by saying that in my day, and it’s as long ago as that, there were only 28 women a year who qualified, so it was quite a unique profession. I had a five-year article, in other words, a five-year traineeship and during that five years, I had two periods of six months which we were allowed off to go to law school, and we had to learn everything in those two six months. It was a very interesting and entertaining time, because there were two other trainees with me, one of whom went on to be a Law Commissioner, even though our firm was quite small, and the other was one of the Heads of the Legal department at Scotland Yard. But at the end of that five years, you could run a practice. It isn’t like now where you go, you have a law degree, and I don’t have a degree. They go to two or three seats for the two years that they are trainees, but they don’t have the same experience as we had then.
There were only really two women in the whole profession who specialised in family law, and quite honestly I could have made a fortune if I had been in family law, but I didn’t happen to like it. I don’t know why, but it didn’t feel at that time particularly unique, except when you were doing the exams, because they put us at the end and any examiner who didn’t like women could have done quite a lot against us. But I don’t ever really remember feeling out of it, so to speak, because I was a woman. The only thing was that I was asked to join the Law Society women’s group and I refused because I said lawyers are lawyers and I didn’t think we should differentiate. But at that time, on the council of the Law Society, there may have been one woman and I think there were a lot of people on that council, something like 60 or so.
I have four children. I worked all the way through. I was allowed three months for each child, reluctantly. I mean reluctantly they gave me that, but nowadays, unless I worked in a firm where I could earn a lot of money, there is no way that I could have done that because the pressures are completely different for a woman, because we now have emails and faxes and all this business. So it would be extremely difficult with four children to work full time as well. I was with my father’s firm for about 25 years. We merged and became a firm where after a few years, I became the Senior Partner. But they wouldn’t call me Senior Partner, they would only call me Chairman of Partners, because I was a woman.
As for women generally in our profession, which is what I think you would like me to make some remarks, the top firms still haven’t got women at the top. I won’t name them, but you know, the big city firms or the very big city firms. There will be five or six who are at the top, and not one of them, as far as I know, is yet a woman. And the other problem is that if you have maternity leave, and I don’t want to comment too much on that, because I think it’s far too long, you lose your promotion. They don’t have any facilities for continuous education during the period that they’re off on leave, and so of course, when they come back they are in the same position really as they were before. And as the major city firms do everything on a points system now, after a certain level, it’s very difficult for them. And of course you can’t have in the legal profession, rather like they do in the Civil Service, that you have flexi time, although some firms are beginning to introduce flexi time and are making provision for working part time. But this doesn’t help them [get] promoted. This is the problem, and it’s a shame. And the other great shame is how many women leave the profession after they’ve qualified and have children and that is such a waste of really good people. It’s a pity.
It’s quite a long time ago that I spotted it, but you see, the trouble is, particularly in the city firms, and particularly in certain fields, you have to work late at night and that is extremely difficult if you’re a woman. Or you have to work extremely long hours and it jeopardises your marriage. Now with men, women seem to put up with this, having husbands who come and go and have to work very long hours. It is difficult for women. There is no question that it’s difficult for them, and unless you’re prepared to not necessarily jeopardise your private life, but certainly have it interfered with in a way that’s extremely difficult, and this has happened over the last, what, 15 years? It’s tough for them. Much, much tougher than it was for me. Apart from anything else, when I ceased to be a Senior Partner, I became a consultant at the other two firms I worked at, and so I was my own boss. It is much easier if you’re in property, much easier, or in private client. Those kind of fields it’s much easier for a woman. But if they’re in commercial, tax, anything like that, I don’t know how they cope.
The other big difference, of course, and this is where the big firms and the small firms can help much more, is that it is possible, in certain fields, to work from home a lot. Now to what extent the city are doing this? I am not sure, because I haven’t been there for a few years. But in the smaller firms, the women can, to a large extent, unless they’re in the fields that we’ve just discussed, do a lot of work from home. I work from home part of the time, for instance. So in that respect, in certain fields, it’s easier. But [again], that doesn’t help in promotion, you know?
The First 100 Years project hosted its annual reception at the Supreme Court, thus marking the amazing achievements of the last year in the presence of the country’s top judges – the Supreme Court President and Baroness Hale, the only woman on the Supreme Court.
The Founder of the First 100 Years project, Dana Denis-Smith, shares her personal story and her journey from Transylvania, in Romania, to being a journalist, City lawyer, woman in law and entrepreneur as well as a mother and wife.
These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with Dame Janet Gaymer, first woman to become Senior Partner of a Top 20 law firm. The video is currently being produced and will be released shortly.
I think the story of women in law is very much a slow burn. It’s obvious if you look at the figures, and I also think that women who work in law firms, still today possibly, are perceived as rather scary. The thought is that they somehow must be superwomen, to do well in a law firm and perhaps also have a family. So that creates a sort of mystique of this scary female, which is rather sad, because they’re not scary females. They’re as human as everyone else and they’ve had to deal with everything else, that everyone has to. So, in terms of the way women in law might be depicted, again, it’s one of ‘how did they do that?’, asking the question ‘how did they do that? How did they manage? How could anyone else do that?’. And that’s now moved to the current generation, which is almost turned round completely, where they see it almost as obvious. You get on the conveyor belt and you go through, and then unfortunately you get to a stage when you think ‘am I enjoying this? Is this really what I want to do?’, and a lot of women today are struggling with that.
It was a very strange experience actually, going up to Oxford and reading jurisprudence, because in that year, I think there were only about seven or eight women scattered through mostly female colleges, doing jurisprudence. And the rest were men. And I remember the very first day I went into the lecture theater in the St Cross building, sitting on the front row with this little group of women, and I remember us all turning our heads back and looking at this sea of men. And I remember thinking this is going to fun. And of course I met my husband at Oxford, who was reading jurisprudence as well.
I think one of the unfortunate side effects of the [legal profession’s] culture, over the years, has been first of all the fact that women have left the profession, very often three [or] four years PQE. And they’ve voted with their feet, they’ve gone off and they’ve never come back. [This is] a complete waste of resource, as many of them were extremely good lawyers. The second thing is that those that have worked extremely hard, and I’m including in male and female lawyers, there have been tragic examples of broken marriages, of lack of social relationships, of not seeing children at the time they wanted to see children, all those kind of things, the fracturing of the social context in which lawyers were working. Which is not good for either the lawyers, the firm or society as a whole. I think firms are much more aware of it now, but there will always be lawyers who want to reach the superstar level, and will be prepared to work round the clock and give whatever it takes. And of course while they are there, the firms will ask them to do it.
In terms of having a family, and having a legal career, I think there are two things. The first thing is you must have a supportive partner, someone who is going to help you through the tough bits, not criticise, but just quietly support you. And I was very fortunate in marrying someone who did that. I owe him a lot, he’s put up with a lot, and I owe him a lot. The second thing is again, it’s back to innovation actually, not to be afraid to innovate. At Simmons and Simmons, I was the first lady partner who’d been pregnant. Fortunately I was an employment lawyer, and the firm turned round to me and said ‘well, we don’t know anything about this, you know, will you tell us what arrangements you need?’, so I explained the proposal. Well I explained the legislation actually for maternity leave, and I suggested a mode of return, and we all made it up as we went along. So, we didn’t have that heavy practice background and structural background which is in place now, where it’s just absolutely normal for a woman to go off on maternity leave, and come back. So we were very much making it up as we went along, and happily I had a supportive firm as well.
So a combination of a supportive partner and a supportive firm, and a mind-set which was along the lines of ‘let’s just roll with this, and see what works and what doesn’t’. I’ve observed some women lawyers, who have been so determined to come back to work they’ve done it come what may, and then they’ve discovered it hasn’t worked, and felt they’ve failed in some way. That’s not a good approach, because you don’t know whether it’s going to work or not, you’ve just got to find your own way. So you can’t generalise really.
Well, when I was trying to decide what to do, when I was leaving Oxford, and had wanted to apply for articles, I applied to a number of firms and I remember at the time I didn’t really have any sense that that was going to be a problem, that there was an issue. So, to that extent, Oxford was a very sheltered place, okay, I was in an all female college, and okay, there weren’t that many women lawyers in the year, but I had no sense that the world might be against me.
The first experience of the world being against me was when I applied for articles to a City firm which is still in existence today, and they sent me a letter, which said ‘thank you for your application, we shall not be calling you for an interview’, and the letter actually says ‘we are prejudiced against female article clerks, due to some unfortunate experiences in the past’. Strangely, when I received the letter I didn’t have a sense of ‘I’m going to sue you, I’m outraged’ and all this sort of thing. First because there was no Sex Discrimination Act at that point. There was no legislation I could use to bring proceedings, and not that I would have wanted to. But I just accepted it as, okay, that’s the way life is. And happily I’d had offers from other firms so that was it. Looking back now, and reading the letter now, I’m outraged by it, but at the time, I just thought okay, that’s it, let’s carry on.
So what does a future woman lawyer look like? What does a woman lawyer in the future look like? Let’s try and describe her. I think she will be very technologically savvy. She will know how to use the latest gadgets because that’s going to make her life easier. She will be able to choose her social path in life, whether she wants to have a family or not, without any concern about the effect on her career. She will be very conscious of the law as a consumer product, i.e. the people out there buying legal services are much more informed, cost aware, and want to know what they’re getting. So she will be conscious of that. And I’d like to think she will be a very human person, in the sense that, I’d like to think that she will want to make the world a better place, for her family, her other half, the firm, the clients etc., etc. I mean that’s not normally in the lawyers’ curriculum but I like to think that that social conscience part of being a lawyer will be there, and will survive any changes that are going to happen in the market.
At the end of the day, she also needs to be a lawyer who delivers the highest quality service to her clients, and acts in the clients’ best interests, and you can never let go of that, because it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, that’s what it’s all about, you’re there to help the client.
#OnTheRoll captures the story of how women were prevented from getting a job in the legal industry for decades, simply because there were no female toilet facilities at law firms and legal institutions.
This unbelievable story has been printed on one hundred limited edition toilet rolls.
You can purchase this special edition roll for £100. For more information, please email [email protected]
These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with June Venters QC, first woman solicitor to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel. The video can be found here.
What happened was that the solicitors firm where I was working, one morning, on a Monday called me in to say they were closing the department and so we were going to be made redundant. I asked if I could go for a walk, and ended up in the office of a friend of mine who was going to Law School the following Monday. Now in those days you had to apply three years in advance to go to Law School. So I was sitting in her office feeling terribly sorry for myself and I think I was crying as well, and her boss who I’d never met before came into the room and asked what was going on, and what was wrong. And I told him. And he said ‘well, have you rung the Law School, to see if you could go on Monday?’ and I just shrugged my shoulders and said ‘well, it’s out of the question’. And I promise you this is what happened. He rang. He just about managed to get my name written down properly to say he had this young lady here [who] would like to go to Law School [and] what was the chances of joining on Monday? The initial reaction he got was ‘you must be joking’, and as he was talking, she then said ‘you’ll never believe this. We’ve been handed a cancellation. If she wants to go, she starts on Monday.’ And that’s how I went to Law School.
I opened [my firm] in Camberwell, on Camberwell Green, and I was surrounded by solicitors’ practices, all of which were owned by men. And there would be constant rumour and gossip that I was awful to work for, [that] I was really a hard task master, and no-one would never want to work for me, and so on, and so on, and so on. And at the end of the day I formed the view as I’ve always done, [that] I’ve got to demonstrate by action because [there is] no point in just simply denying those sort of allegations because at the end of the day, you’ve got to prove them. And I think the fact that I’ve had staff working for me for ten, twelve, fourteen years speaks for itself. But of course that had to develop over a period of time, but yes, that was the sort of thing I would get. And there would be equally suggestions to clients that they didn’t want to come to me because I wasn’t going to be able to deal with this, that or the other. And yes, yes, I was aware of what was going on, but I saw it as fierce competition, at my age looking back, [but] it was probably worse than that, and it was probably [gender] discrimination.
I’ve always valued male and female solicitors and I’ve never set out ever to positively discriminate in favour of women. I’ve always had an open interview and open application, and I’ve selected who I’ve thought was the best at the time. So I’ve not operated positive discrimination. But I think that on a personal level, I’ve been able to bring to my professional qualification, my own life experiences. I believe that my personality is a genuinely nurturing personality. That’s not to say that I’m sure a lot of men aren’t nurturing as well, but I think women have an awful lot to offer and I just think it’s a great shame that even in today’s times that’s not recognised and elevated to the same position as a man.
Oh gosh, my very first time I can tell you exactly, it was disastrous. My very first trial I was in the Magistrates Court, and I was so committed to my client, and making sure I’d prepared the case properly and everything else, that when he came to give his evidence he was half way through, and of course he started contradicting himself, at which point I jumped to my feet to correct him and I had to be told in no uncertain terms by the then Stipendiary Magistrate, ‘Ms Venters, your client is giving evidence, sit down’. So, yes, I wanted to crawl under a table and die. So I’ll never forget that.
I think, well, the thing I always say to youngsters when I talk to them coming into the profession, [is to] always remember that you have to prepare, because if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. So, the first thing that makes a good advocate is preparation. You cannot go into a court and expect to represent your client and to make oral representations to the judge or to question a witness, unless you know your case and you’ve got to know it well, so preparation first.
Second, I think you have to have a passion. You have to enjoy expressing yourself verbally. I think you have to be able to have a rapport. I think that when we see a lot of programmes on the television very often you will see the barrister or the solicitor portrayed in a way that actually isn’t always completely accurate. Because what we always say again, when we train advocates, is to have a conversation with the judge. You’re not lecturing the judge. You’re not shouting at the judge. You’re actually trying to engage the judge in dialogue, because you’re trying to persuade the judge to come round to your way of thinking, and if you want to persuade someone, the art of persuasion is the approach that you adopt. And although there is a time and a place for an aggressive approach at times, I try to live my life with the policy of there’s more bees with honey than with vinegar. And so when I cross-examine a witness, I tend not to go in aggressively, certainly not at the beginning, because I’d rather question them in a way that I’m entering into a dialogue with them, rather than making them immediately defensive, and them not giving me the answers that I’m seeking.
I think that on receiving the notification that I had been appointed the first woman solicitor QC, I obviously was delighted personally, but I began to realise I think over a period of a few days, the reaction from my colleagues really, because I hadn’t realised when I received the notification that it was going to be such a historical event if you like. But I began to realise that actually this was the first time a woman solicitor had become a silk, and I think when I made my speech, which I did in celebration of this, I spoke about how I hoped that I wouldn’t remain the first, or at least I wouldn’t remain on my own as the first, for too long. But I think in the [last] ten years, I’m right in saying, there’s only one other woman solicitor QC. And that’s a great shame. There’s a lot of women that I know, in my profession, that would easily qualify as a silk.
Can I begin with a male model, because I think this was influential, and it’s also another really sad story actually, and when I say sad, I mean pathetic, not sad as in unhappy. But when I was at Law School, I was twenty-one, and Lord Denning was still sitting and would sit in the Court of Appeal, and I would for my sins often go and watch him, because I was absolutely in awe of him, and of course when I was at Law School, so many cases that we had to hear about and learn, he was the Presiding Judge. So I felt that he was very important in my learning, and there came a point when he had written a book, and he was signing autographs and I queued for almost two hours to get this judge’s autograph, and I’ve still got the book at home. And when I told my friends and I was really quite proud of what I’d achieved with this autograph, I think they all thought I was completely round the twist, and they could have understood me lining up for Rod Stewart, but not for Lord Denning. So he was my role model if you like, not that I ever aspired to be anywhere near as able as him. But he certainly gave me a great deal of enthusiasm for the law and social justice.
Who’s my role model now? I think I’d have to say without hesitation Baroness Hale. I’ve appeared in front of her, many years ago, when she was in the High Court, and in the Court of Appeal. And to see her rise to the Supreme Court, I’m absolutely delighted. I’m very proud that I had the opportunity in the past to appear in front of her. I’d love to have that opportunity again, but appearing in the Supreme Court doesn’t come easily. And I would love to see her become the top one in the Supreme Court, and that’s not to say that I don’t think that the men there are all very worthy, but what an achievement that would be.
We’ve got a long way to go I think. I think that yes, we have made improvements, and I think [in] my practice there’s complete equality. It makes not a jot of difference whether you’re male or female. You get paid the salary for the work that you’re doing. I don’t think that’s the same in the larger practices, and from what I’ve heard and read, assuming that it’s all reliable. I think that’s a great shame and I think we need to really move forward on that. Whether we will achieve complete equality in my lifetime, I don’t know, but I would like to see it.
June Venters QC, the first woman solicitor to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel, speaks to the First 100 Years about her journey in law.
Her interview transcripts can be found here.
Barry Matthews, deputy General Counsel at ITV, in conversation with Mrs June Foote, his school headmistress and a magistrate, who inspired him to succeed in life and train as a lawyer.
These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with Shami Chakrabarti which can be found here.
I think I wanted to become a lawyer fairly early on. I think I was partly shaped by the books and movies that my Mother shared with me, that’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, [and] the list goes on. The idea of justice in the courtroom. I was also partly shaped by the idea that law could be a vehicle for broader social change.
I think we all suffer injustices as children. We’re all subject to what we feel is unfair treatment and punishment without trial and collective punishment ….. but I think also, if you are a girl, you very early on see that girls and boys are treated differently and not always fairly and equally ….. [if] you come from a minority background you can sometimes see racial prejudice and sometimes very graphically see the demonstration of that. I grew up in the 1970’s, I saw racist graphite all over the walls, I sat on cheap trains with my parents and watched them nervously endure racist football chants and so on. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had an unfortunate life, I think I’ve had an extremely fortunate one, but yes I’ve live through the existence of injustice on grounds of gender in particular all my life.
I didn’t find pupillage the happiest of experiences. I did see young men being preferred over young women pupils at the bar. I saw young women who were clearly the most able of my peers getting fewer opportunities for pupillages and for tenancies in Chambers than my male counterpart. There’s no doubt about that. I hope it’s a little better than that now but if you look further up the food chain, it is a terrible scandal that Britain has only ever had one woman Law Lord as our Supreme Court Justice. The wonderful Baroness Brenda Hale remains the first and only woman ever to have served in our highest court [and] that is completely unconscionable. There is no justification or excuse and I hugely disagree with people who suggest that it will take up to 50 years to right that wrong.
I can remember quite overt sexism at times when I was a young barrister and I can remember quite overt sexism when I was a lawyer in the Home Office. I can remember being acknowledged by a barrister for looking too confident as I walked into the clerk’s room to discuss a brief. You know, looking as if I owned the place, how dare I, how dare I have that kind of confidence and I was sure that that was because I was a woman. I can remember a senior colleague in the Home Office asking me what the personal circumstances of a junior colleague were before we negotiated what her pay should be. The underlying question being does she have a husband to support her or should she be paid the same as her male counterparts. This was not so long ago; this is all in the mid and late 1990’s.
The broad span of my time in the Home Office is the most formative time in my career and a very happy one. One of the things about the Civil Service at that time and the Government legal service in particular, as it was led by the first woman Treasury Solicitor, Dame Juliette Weldon, was a much more equal place I suspect than private practice at that time. Whether that’s still the position now I don’t know, but public service has often been a place where women have gone instinctively because it’s often been friendlier to families and better for women.
There is no doubt that there are certain jibes that you get as a woman that you wouldn’t get as a man. There are certain columnists that seem to have a particular problem not just perhaps with my values and my arguments, but with the fact that, you know, I’m a bolshie woman. All these phrases that are more applicable to women than perhaps to men. And I was once on Question Time with Jeff Hulme, we had a debate about torture because his Government was complicit in torture and he called my response emotional and this divided the audience I think, on very clear gender lines because I think a lot of the women realised that this was misogynistic.
I think parenthood can affect people in a number of different ways cause we’re individuals, but for me ironically perhaps, I got a greater confidence through having had a child. I think I was so anxious about the awesome responsibility of being a parent, of being a Mother that even a massive job like being the Director of Liberty felt less of a responsibility than parenthood, so I think it was good for my confidence, but it also gave me a more personal and less abstract or philosophical stake in the constitutional climate. You know, we want to leave a better planet to future generations, but not just a physical environment but a political and constitutional environment where their rights and freedoms will be respected.
I think role models are important. They’re not always the most famous or successful people but I do think it’s important that we all have people that we can identify with and if they can do things we want to do and they look a bit like us, we are encouraged. I can remember being a 19-year-old at the LSE, a law student and hearing Alaina Kennedy, now Baroness Alaina Kennedy of the Shaws coming to speak and no doubt she spoke at length, but the phrase I remember was her encouragement that we need good people with good hearts to come into the law and that was such a simple and heartfelt phrase but I never forgot it. And then I had the privilege later in my career to meet Alaina to work with her and now she’s a dear friend; the role model becomes the friend.
When I was in the Home Office, I was so inspired and encouraged and mentored by Juliette Weldon who was the Home Office legal advisor and she went on to be the first woman Treasury Solicitor and [then] the legal advisor to the Bank of England: again a woman’s woman who wasn’t afraid to lead but also to encourage and to mentor. I can remember being so inspired by reading about Gareth Pearce ….. a solicitor who represented people who’d suffered miscarriages of justice being falsely accused of terrorism and again when I came to Liberty I had the great privilege of working with her and now my role models include younger women, including the women who work at Liberty, many from a legal background who work in policy [and] in litigation.
So the great thing about role models is they can be famous or strangers or colleagues or family members closer to home, but I think it’s wrong to ignore the importance of that kind of identification and encouragement.
[Showing us a picture of her and her mother] There was my Mother, a woman whose life chances and professional opportunities had been so limited by being a woman, by her father and by her circumstances but who was so encouraging of her daughter and she brought her daughter up, that’s me, to believe that she could do anything and. That was a special evening, one of those special evenings in your life where you think that everything and anything is possible and that’s my Mum, she’s either about to give me a kiss or she just has and there’s a younger me with no idea what the future holds. Wearing the wig and gown that I didn’t actually wear for that long compared with other people, but nonetheless, the symbols of my trade or profession and it’s a very happy day of, if you like, female solidarity and optimism and promise and that’s what I hope that this 100 Years project will be about.
A member of the first small cohort of women to practise at the English Bar, Ethel Bright Ashford was called alongside Helena Normanton and seven other women at Middle Temple in November 1922. Her political background and subsequent career were very different to Normanton’s, highlighting the diversity of the legal pioneers.
Thirty-nine years old at the time of her Call, and daughter of a retired merchant, Ashford had already been awarded a BA from the University of London as an external student before going on to postgraduate study at Woodbrooke College, Birmingham where she earned a Social Study Diploma; at London School of Economics; and at Bryn Mawr, the famous women’s college in Pennsylvania, USA. During the war, she had replaced her brother as managing director of a business , but also became active in local government. On her admission to Middle Temple in 1920, she was described as a lecturer in history and civics and councillor of St Marylebone.
Ashford had become a local councillor in 1919 and focused her career upon local government. She practised law in that area, and wrote and edited a number of books including Local Government: A Simple Treatise (1929), Glen’s Law Relating to Unemployment Assistance (1934) and The Water Act 1945 (1946). She also worked to educate other women to be informed voters and encouraged them to stand in council elections. In 1918, she and Edith Place had written a Handbook on Local Government for the Women’s Municipal Party, a non-partisan organisation whose purpose was to put more women into local government. While the Party disbanded a few years later, Ashford was Chair and then President of the Women Citizens Association (Marylebone Branch) until 1938. The Branch’s efforts bore fruit: in 1922, the year of her Call, she was also one of seven women councillors elected in Marylebone. She also travelled nationally to talk to women’s groups: newspaper reports record visits as far afield as Derby, Sheffield and Glastonbury.
Although much of her work was politically non-partisan, Ashford’s own politics were always conservative; and in 1939, she and her nephew visited Nazi Germany with a pro-Nazi organisation. However, while her nephew was a British Union of Fascists official and would be interned during the Second World War, Ashford’s involvement appears to have been much more limited and did not prevent her continuing to serve as a councillor. She continued to represent Park Crescent Ward on Marylebone Borough Council until 1953.
Interested in social work and local history, Ashford was a leading member and later Chair of the London Society and gave evidence to an enquiry on the future of the Nash terraces in Regent’s Park which resulted in their preservation. She was one of the founders of the St Marylebone Society in 1947; it published several of her works on the area’s history. Ashford died aged 97 in 1980.
Written by Caroline Derry
Photo originally from Westminster Libraries.
The elevated social status of peers in the House of Lords might conjure an image of rigid and old-fashioned hierarchy and, more specifically, patriarchy. In contrast, an idealisation of the apparently more modern Commons may create assumptions of equality and fairness between MPs. I went into Parliament with these preconceptions when I carried out ethnographic studies in 1998-2000 in the Lords and 2011-13 in the Commons. But observation of the everyday talk and relationships within the two Houses reveals the opposite: while the Lords have an egalitarian and co-operative ethos, and women thrive in the upper House, the competitive and aggressive Commons is a far less comfortable place for women.
In 1957 the response of some peers to the idea of women being allowed to become members of the House of Lords was unfavourable. Incredibly Earl Ferrers warned,
It is generally accepted, for better or worse, that a man’s judgment is generally more logical and less tempestuous than that of a woman. Why then should we encourage women to eat their way, like acid into metal, into positions of trust and responsibility which previously men have held? If we allow women in this House where will this emancipation end? (1)
By the time of my research, forty years later, women were outperforming men, according to nearly all peers I spoke to. This is unsurprising as they are almost all life peers and would have had to fight their way up male-dominated and often hostile organisations, whether the House of Commons or other workplaces. Memories of earlier male peer hostility were scarcely relevant. All peers tell you that a meritocracy reigns among them with each being judged by their contribution rather than their background or identity. Earl Russell clarified, “peers rise as equals but how they sit is up to them”: all will be listened to with respect in the Chamber but the impression they make depends on how they perform their speeches. (2) Women peers speak with confidence and authority, relishing the courtly style of Lords’ debates where wit, self-deprecation and a light touch are prized above aggression. Women made up 25% of the House in February 2015 but the only two peers attending Cabinet (but without full Cabinet rank) were women – Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Baroness Anelay of St Johns – and one third of the 27 Lords Ministers were female including the Leader of the House. In 2014 while only 20% of government Ministers in the Commons were female, 30% in the Lords were. The first two Lord Speakers have been female and and since the House of Lords Appointments Commission was established in 2000, 36% of its appointed cross-bench peers have been women. Women seem to attend more often than men; the House of Lords reports that in recent sessions while women peers attended 70 per cent of possible sitting days, men attended only 60 per cent. (3) Nothing compels backbench peers to be in the House, aside from peer pressure, so those with dependents or time-consuming responsibilities outside the House are less disadvantaged than in most public organisations.
In the House of Commons the situation is reversed. The male: female ratio of MPs has been moving towards equality but remains absurdly unrepresentative of the population at 71:29. In almost every site of work for MPs, women face difficulties. Although women MPs perform with confidence in deliberative debates, select committees and in constituencies, they are not at ease in the most public rituals, the gladiatorial verbal battles such as Prime Minister’s Question Time. Resisting the aggression is hard. One woman MP explained,
You have MPs banked up in front of you and MPs banked up behind you and when you speak – for example, at Question Time – the mass of noise can be overwhelming. If you fail, then your side will leave with their heads down.
So women may want to perform differently; they may feel inauthentic, but the pressure to conform to aggression can be irresistible for many. In informal meetings too women MPs in all parties have observed that in a mixed gender group when women are outnumbered, which is the norm in Westminster, then various exclusion mechanisms come into play. A woman can make a point that is ignored but when repeated by a man gets the response, “that is brilliant!” MPs tend to refer to the ideas voiced by male MPs, especially those in more prominent positions, which reinforces the impression that they are the ones with the best ideas. Sarah Childs’ research with women MPs supports the idea that the way women behave puts them at a disadvantage. In the adversarial world of politics, you have to promote yourself as an individual and self-promotion is considered appropriate behaviour for men while women tend to be socialised into diffidence (2004: 10). (4)
Political candidates have to deploy huge amounts of time in inflexible and anti-social ways into campaigning and winning support within the party as well as within constituencies. This is a serious disincentive to those women with dependents who have no other significant source of income. When in Parliament the sitting hours have become more ‘family friendly’ but working hours for MPs get longer and longer each year, with the regularity of visits to constituencies requiring most to split their week between two homes during parliamentary terms. It can’t be a coincidence that 45 per cent of men in Parliament have children while only 28 per cent of women do. (5) In 2010 the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the new body that administers MPs’ expenses, reduced the finance available for family members to travel between their two homes. So specific forms of time and financial pressure may discourage women going into politics in the first place and once they are there, they report that coping with family separation, running two homes and caring for dependents create pressure.
Lobby journalists, who are also over-represented by men, are drawn to develop close working relationships with male MPs. They tend to refer to the male MPs as the cerebral, clever and promising ones, while women are subject to personal jibes and patronizing assessments. (6) Whether female or male, hacks can be strangely obsessed with women’s appearance. If women MPs are plain or badly dressed then they are assumed to be bitter; if they are beautiful they must be dim; and if well-dressed then seen as frivolous. If men are criticised, it tends to be their behavior not their capabilities that come under scrutiny: their drinking, affairs or greed, all playing into a stereotype of dissolute male politicians. The denigration of women MPs by journalists is tame compared to the misogyny directed at them on social media. The comments in cyberspace, where people hide behind easy anonymity, can be threatening and violent not only to the women themselves but those close to them. MPs reported that the negative press and hurt and damage to their families was a major disincentive to staying in Parliament. (7)
The only area where women seem more at ease than men is constituency work. All MPs do policy work and canvassing in their constituencies. But some men are less likely to do huge numbers of surgery meetings. In contrast women are more likely to describe this advocacy type work for individuals and families as the most satisfying part of their work. It is mostly middle-class MPs representing the interests of their often working-class constituents to the state, either national or local. (Better off people employ lawyers or accountants.) This work has value and women not only do it willingly but with consummate skill, using their abilities to listen, show empathy and express sympathy. Some men take this work seriously as well as but the only MPs I could find who rarely or never attend surgeries seemed to be male. For those few, their ambition was to get a job in government or hold it to account; glorified social work, as it is called by some, was a distraction. They delegate this surgery work to caseworkers who tend to be young women. It is perhaps revealing that Labour MP Paul Flynn says of this relationship, ‘The MP should be the living embodiment of the constituency, tirelessly promoting and defending the territory with the ferocity of a mother protecting her offspring.’ (8) So are women MPs (and caseworkers) retreating to a less powerful, caring domain that sounds somewhat reminiscent of their still more dominant caring role within families in wider society? Or, are they showing the way ahead for any MP striving to be effective?
The lingering assumption is that the norm for MPs is to be a white man; women, and especially black or working class women, are treated as if they are space invaders, as Nirmal Puwar puts it. (9) The predominance of male MPs recreates this assumption as a reality. Women face fewer constraints in the Lords than the Commons but it is the lower House that is more visible and has both the formal and informal power in the eyes of the nation. It is women MPs we are watching and since they can only open up possibilities for women if women grab those opportunities, we – women in all our diversity – owe it to the women grappling with exhausting pressures in the competitive Commons, and to ourselves, to jump into the fray. With new ideas for taking action towards a more inclusive and representative Parliament, recently published by Sarah Childs, and considerable support within the House of Commons, this is the time to do it. (10)
Written by Emma Crewe.
(1) Earl Ferrers, HL Debates, 3 December 1957, vol. CCVI, col. 709-10.↩
(2) E. Crewe, 2005, Lords of Parliament, Manners, rituals and politics (Manchester University Press) p.106.↩
(3) Ibid, p. 17.↩
(4) Sarah Childs, 2004, ‘A feminised style of politics? women MPs in the House of Commons’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 6, p.10.↩
(5) Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs, 2014, ‘Parents in Parliament: ‘Where’s Mum?’”, Political Quarterly vol. 85, issue 4, pp. 487-492.↩
(6) E. Crewe, 2015, House of Commons, An Anthropology of MPs at Work (Bloomsbury), p. 173-4 ↩
(7) Ibid, pp. 174-5.↩
(8) Paul Flynn, How To Be An MP (Biteback Publishing, 2012), p. 138.↩
(9) Nirmal Puwar, Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place (Berg, 2004).↩
(10) Sarah Childs, The Good Parliament, University of Bristol, http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/news/2016/july/20%20Jul%20Prof%20Sarah%20Childs%20The%20Good%20Parliament%20report.pdf, accessed 1 st August 2016.↩
There is a saying in Latin America that when one woman comes into politics, she changes, but when many women come into politics, politics changes. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister she was one of very few women in the political arena. By comparison when Theresa May became the second female Prime Minister on Wednesday 13th July 2016, she joined the swelling ranks of female global leaders. What impact will this have on other women? May will work closely with the female chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, to facilitate Brexit negotiations, and allegedly the first call she made as Prime Minister was to Merkel. It is likely that Hilary Clinton will become the first female US President later this year, and Angela Eagle is campaigning for leadership of the Labour Party, contesting Jeremy Corbyn’s incumbency. Where Thatcher avoided policies to help women, what will May do as Prime Minister to fulfil her claims of being a strong proponent of women’s rights?
Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat as MP in the House of Commons, told innumerable stories about the hostility she encountered. One particularly galling anecdote involves Winston Churchill admitting that the male MP’s had tried to ‘freeze her out’. Churchill said that when women entered the House of Commons he felt as if a woman was entering his bathroom and that he had nothing to protect himself with. How far has this picture Churchill so colourfully painted of a furiously defensive, men-only club changed?
Margaret Thatcher’s leadership was conspicuously absent of any encouragement for women’s career advancement. Dame Jenni Murray once asked her on a radio interview how she kept up her professionalism when faced with comments such as French President Mitterand description that she had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe’. Margaret refused on live radio to answer the question. This refusal to share her experiences of dealing with the pressures of working in a male-dominated world plays into a narrative that Thatcher ‘drawing up the ladder behind her’. Baroness Young was the only woman deemed ‘good enough’ to be in her cabinet. Thatcher also claimed that ‘women’s lib’ had never helped her and that she did not like ‘strident females’. By contrast, Theresa May describes herself as always having ‘championed women in politics’. In appointing Liz Truss as the Lord Chancellor (or rather Lady Chancellor), May has helped to chip away at the glass ceiling. Truss will be the first female Chancellor in British history.
How has this championing of women in politics translated to May’s political record? She is a self-declared feminist, and founded Women2Win to secure more women candidates in the Conservative party. She is viewed as pragmatic, tough, and as a shrewd operator, and has identified the importance of maximizing on the skills of women to deliver economic benefits to Britain. To achieve this goal she has advocated flexible parental leave and has discussed the importance of providing female role models and mentoring. May has made violence against women a cornerstone of her work during her time as home secretary, introducing the law of coercive control to tackle domestic violence and setting up a nationwide HMIC inquiry into how police deal with domestic violence. Her style of management has been described as instinctively collegiate, an important and traditionally ‘feminine’ characteristic which is seen as conducive to negotiation and settlement.
A significant similarity between the press treatment of Thatcher and May is the focus on their physical appearance, notably never replicated with coverage of male politicians. The level of media scrutiny over a female leader’s appearance is a revealing barometer of gender equality. Margaret Thatcher responded to criticism of her clothes, hair, and voice by softening her appearance and taking voice-coaching lessons. By contrast, May has never altered her appearance or conduct, although admittedly a relentless media obsession with her footwear is not equivalent to the constant berating experienced by Margaret. It can be expected that there will be less tolerance of the kind of ‘lifestyle’ intrigue perpetuated by the press that Margaret Thatcher experienced. People were fascinated by her personal life; her projected image of idealized female domesticity, an immaculate home, cooking breakfast for Denis every morning before leaving and claiming that she never went to a pub unless escorted by a man. In the recent leadership race against challenger Andrea Leadsom, May expressed her wish to ‘to keep my personal life personal’ and hoped that ‘nobody would think that mattered’ on the question of her remaining childless. The shock of a female Prime Minister has therefore already been absorbed and thirty years on less blatantly sexist discourses are to be expected.
In 1972 a radio broadcast spoke to some key women members of parliament, drawing a consensus from all of them that women were under pressure to be more conscientious than their male colleagues, even excessively so, in order that an accusation of their incompetence could never be levied. Margaret Thatcher was purportedly better briefed on any subject than the responsible departmental minister. She was extremely informed, perhaps as Shirley Williams argued, so that men could not say she was not up to the job. Entering a phase where female leadership will be increasingly common, perhaps this pressure on women to be unfalteringly professional will ease. Whereas Thatcher’s combative style of politics made her notorious among her own party members, perhaps May’s more ‘negotiable’ leadership approach will produce better solutions to the challenges faced.
Theresa May can expect some welcome differences in how she is treated by colleagues and the press compared to her predecessor. Westminster is a more accepting place for female politicians, yet it still suffers from severe under-representation of women. The male-dominated environment of Westminster is one that May’s leadership has the capacity to change, and is expected to change. As well as the pressing need for progression, women’s rights will need championing when Britain leaves the European Union. We look forward to seeing what changes she will ring.
In 2016 Chambers & Partners described Clare Montgomery as ‘the most formidable member of the bar’. She is a highly respected specialist in criminal, regulatory and fraud law, known for her work on legally and factually complex cases. The following article is based on Clare’s video interview with First 100 Years and is written in her words.
‘I was told I ought to be a lawyer; I was extremely argumentative and competitive as a child. At Millfield School most of the role models were male, it was a very competitive, challenging environment but there was no over sexism. It was quite liberated in the sense that there was no ‘well, you’re a girl, and you can’t do X or Y’.
When I started out I did a law degree, probably a mistake because I wasn’t a great academic lawyer. I started as a commercial common lawyer in training and people told me I wasn’t suited to the bar; I’d tried and failed to get in at places for about two years, doing pupillages and being told I wasn’t good enough. But when I ended up in a criminal set, there was a real sense of revelation when I did my first case. It’s fantastically rewarding because you have a problem, you see it through to the end, and there is a conclusion in court. Crime was instant, human, and utterly engaging. Court is terrifying, it remains terrifying, but the degree of terror reduces as you get habituated to it though.
The realization that sexism might actually make a difference to what happened to me didn’t come until I started trying to make my way as a barrister. By the time I started at the bar I was very much standing on the shoulders of those who’d gone before, the idea of female barristers had grained credence. Most of the male members would have said that they were not sexist, and I expect they weren’t, it was just their image of a barrister was white and male and middle class. So there was nothing aggressive about it, but there’s no doubt that you were an odd one out. I didn’t set out to be a role model but I wanted to be an example to male colleagues that said ‘hey, there’s nothing wrong with having women as your colleagues, that they will be as good or better than you’. So I definitely set out to be better than them.
Success at the bar is actually very, very simple. You read all the papers, you look at the legal issues, you understand the legal issues, you try and set a strategy that makes sure that you don’t make any mistakes and then the case will run its course. Frankly, the number of cases which I’ve transformed from losing cases to winning cases I can count on the fingers of one hand. High profile cases can present a particular danger to the barrister because of the press, and responding to scrutiny takes your focus off convincing the jury, the court, or the judges. When it turns out well for the individual client, if I’m defending, there’s a huge pleasure in having met somebody who’s effectively in the legal equivalent of the grip of a long illness, and you nurse them through and they recover at the end. It’s much more about those individual moments rather than ‘wow, I was in this big case’.
Judging is a very different sort of activity. It’s your job to get it right, it’s your job to make sure, even if the parties haven’t covered it, that you’ve understood all the difficulties. So it’s much more exacting. And I find it harder, because ultimately there is only one right answer. On the first day sitting in the chair as a judge, it’s almost as nerve-wracking as being down there looking up at somebody sitting in a chair.
Having a family is the question I get asked most by other women, and the answer is you’ve just got to make your life so it can deal practically with the demands of having young children. As it happens, my husband and I hit upon a division of responsibility that meant that I had much greater freedom to come back to work. It’s difficult and you have to discuss it in quite a lot of detail before you embark on it. But on the other hand it’s been fantastic, for me it does feel like I’ve had it all because I’ve been able to see my children growing up. The problem with the bar particularly is that it is a referral profession, you need people to be referring work to you. There needs to be a lot of concentration on the people who sent you work before you had children, and certainly here we give a lot of support to barristers who are going to take time off. But in the end, because you’re self-employed it comes down to you what work comes in, so there is a limit on what can be done structurally to make that easier.
My daughters are twenty and eighteen and if they had any interest in the law I would encourage them, but being a successful barrister involves a lot of luck. I have a lot of very able colleagues, male and female, who don’t have the practice they deserve just because they haven’t been in the right place at the right time, and that will take a toll on your self-esteem. I’d want to be sure that my daughters were sufficiently robust to cope with the good bits as well as the bad. But otherwise, it’s a great job, I can’t think of a better one.
When I was younger I had no vision of what it was going to be like. I went with the flow, whatever people offered that looked interesting I said yes. In terms of female colleagues I had no direct role models in law. I had people around me like Barbara Mills so there were women who’d kicked open some of the doors that you were going to go through. But as a junior barrister you’re mainly looking at your peers and to be honest when I was a junior barrister mainly my peers were male barristers.
On the recent donation of one of our #ontheroll artefacts, it was suggested by a librarian that First 100 Years look into the innovative and important work done by female legal librarians over the past century. This is a field that is very un-worked, and we welcome any contributions from legal librarians on your work and experiences. This piece gives an overview of a couple of female legal librarians who made significant changes to the way legal libraries work.
Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Moys was born in 1928, and began her impressive career as a librarian in 1951, going on to become a ‘giant’ in the field and founding member of the BIALL. First she was deputy librarian to Howard Drake, and responsible in the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) for compiling the early editions of lists of serials and foreign law. These were essential between the 1950s-1980s before computers. Betty published the Moys Classification and Thesaurus for Legal Materials in 1968. It is a classification system designed to work with the existing Library of Congress Classification (LCC) scheme. The LCC did not have a fully developed K class (class for Law), and this is what the Moys system addressed. It was adopted worldwide with a level of enthusiasm that testifies to the great demand for a Law classifying scheme and also to the excellent quality of the Moys system. Described as possessing ‘rationality and elegance’, as well as ‘clarity and clear logic’, the classification scheme demonstrates her deep understanding and commitment to the subject. The most recent edition was published in 2012, describing Betty in the front matter as ‘a hard act to follow’ and dedicating the fifth edition to her memory.
She first developed and tested the Moys scheme whilst working at the then new University of Lagos in Nigeria. She classified the entire law section, and went on to hold the post of librarian at the University of Ghana. She also edited The Law Librarian, the first issue of which appeared in April 1970. Her publications were also influential for legal librarians, and after five years working with a number of contributors, the Manual of Law Librarianship was published in 1976. For her work on this she became the first recipient of the award from the Howard Drake Memorial Fund in 1977.
After retirement, she redirected her energies to indexing. Qualifying and joining the Society of Indexers in 1985, she then made several important steps in indexing legal texts. She won the Library Association and Society of Indexers’ Wheatley Medal in 191 for her index to the British Tax Encyclopedia. In 2000, two years before her death, she was awarded an MBE for services to classification and indexing. Her vision and attention to detail throughout her career have made her a stalwart of the legal librarian profession. The Betty Moys Fund is a gift made in her will to financially support BIALL members wishing to attend overseas conferences. She also provided in her will for the establishment of the Betty Moys prize be established to reward a new indexer each year.
Muriel Anderson was the IALS Librarian from 1982 to 1991. She was one of only five women in her year to be admitted to the joint honours degree course in French and German at Queen’s University, Belfast. Before succeeding Willi Steiner as IALS Librarian she was Deputy Librarian from 1960. Described as ‘unshakeabl(y)’ committed and loyal to the library, and played a vital management role in an the most significant legal research library in Britain. Under her watch the collection was re-housed, dramatically expanded, and new technology was adopted. She also worked for several months in the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and was Chair of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL). She authored a number of articles on law librarianship, including a chapter edited by Elizabeth M. Moys.
In 1971 Muriel set up the Duplicates Exchange scheme with Mary Blake. This was moved to electronic delivery in 2003. The scheme allows libraries to share resources and help large and small firms, academic and government Libraries. It allows different institutions to access missing periodical parts, old textbooks and directories.
Both the Moys Classification system and the Duplicates Exchange scheme are innovations which have changed the way legal libraries function. Law libraries are an integral part of the legal sector which facilitate the rigorous work and study which exemplifies the profession in the UK. Too often the librarians who play such a crucial role in preserving documents and archival material are themselves under-represented in the historical record. Please contact [email protected] with stories, information, or thoughts on the role of female legal librarians.
Tensions over labour relations and frustration that social change was stagnating caused a backdrop of restlessness to this decade. The First World War shook the British nation to its core and led to unprecedented changes in political, legislative, and cultural structures. This was the epoch that saw the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic in 1915, the first non-stop transatlantic flight, and the reign of the new monarch King George V.
Violent Tonypandy riots began in 1910 in response to a lockout by coal mine owners and set the tone for a decade marked by strike action. Increasing industrial mechanisation was a source of anxiety for many workers in Britain because employers were trying to increase surplus as much as possible by reducing labour costs, making jobs seem unstable. A year later in 1911, a Mounted Police Convoy and the warship HMS Antrim were used in two incidents to suppress the Liverpool General Transport Strikes, which paralysed Liverpool commerce for the summer. Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s liberal government took steps to address the critical problems facing workers. The National Insurance Act of December 1911 was the foundation of the modern welfare statement, insuring against loss of health, for the prevention and cure of sickness, and against unemployment.
However, until World War One labour relation issues continued to cause problems. Workers suffered from unsafe conditions in huge production plants where their lives and health were often dangerously compromised from working with toxic substances. The 1917 Silvertown Explosion is one of the most horrific examples of this in the 1910’s. Silvertown produced up to 9 tons of TNT a day, a volatile explosive used by troops on the Western Front. In an accidental explosion 70,000 buildings were damaged, 73 people killed, and over 400 injured. Molten metal showered across several miles, whilst the blast itself was heard in Southampton and Norwich.
The whole heavens were lit in awful splendour.
The Stratford Express
Conditions for the working-class were lamentable. But it was the drudgery and hardship of working-class women’s lives that aggravated Emmeline Pankhurst to campaign for female suffrage in an attempt to improve their lives. She had created the WSPU in 1903, a militant suffragette organisation, born out of frustration with the lack of progress from the peaceful suffragists in the NUWSS. Poorer women, when not burdened by frequent pregnancies, faced the backbreaking hard work necessary to keep households clean with limited resources and in squalid conditions. Average life expectancy for women in this decade was 55, slightly higher than for men.
The decade began with several major set-backs for female suffrage in the failure of three Conciliation Bills which had aimed to extend female suffrage. The Women’s Franchise Bill was dropped in November 1910, the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith arguing that it would erode ‘the distinction of sex’. Emmeline Pankhurst led a deputation of 300 women to parliament on ‘Black Friday’ in protestation. The police suppressed them and 200 women being assaulted. Many suffragettes who chained themselves to railings during the early years of the 1910s were victims of sexual assault at the hands of men in the public and police forces. In that same year the case Bebb v. Law Society ruled that women would not be allowed to take exams to qualify as solicitors, on the basis that women were not ‘persons’. Disappointment over the failure of government to pass enfranchising legislation provoked the WSPU to further militancy.
Women like Pleasance Pendred smashed windows and committed acts of vandalism to agitate for change. In 1913 Emily Wilding Davison suffered fatal injuries sustained after stepping out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail in 1913. She went on hunger strike in protest of her imprisonment, leading to the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, otherwise known as the Cat and Mouse Act. Women who went on hunger strike would be released from prison until they had recovered and then re-arrested to complete their sentence. It led to Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested 9 times in 18 months. Decadent food was placed before prisoners in their cells to tempt them. Christabel Pankhurst wrote that ‘from the moment that women had consented to prison, hunger-strikes, and forcible feeding as the price of the vote, the vote really was theirs’. Force-feeding was an act of cruel brutality that ingratiated popular opinion to the cause of female Suffrage.
At the outbreak of war Emmeline Pankhurst abruptly ended her militant approach. She encouraged women to take up the empty jobs left by men who had gone to the front, and renamed the Suffragette figure ‘Britannia’. The NUWSS suffragist society also dropped its work to join the WAAC (Women’s Active Service Corps), the British section of the Women’s International League. Women worked in jobs they had never had access to before, serving in the navy, the Red Cross, and in the police force. ‘Woman’ was used as a national symbol of patriotism, the representative and defender of family life and domesticity that British soldiers were fighting to defend. As fashions began to change women also looked different, wearing shorter hairstyles and shorter skirts. Military braiding, belts with buckles, and shorter skirts were seen everywhere as clothes adapted out of wartime necessity. By 1915 hemlines rose shockingly to mid-calf, but colours were more sober. A further consequence of World War One, rather ironically, is that the health of a number of women improved. Improvements in living conditions and nutrition partially caused better health, with some historians arguing that women’s diets improved because wartime restrictions on pubs allowed more household income to be spent on food.
Five years later in 1918, London was ‘wild with delight’ after the 11th November Armistice that ended the war. The Representation of the People Act was passed that year, allowing women over the age of 30 who met certain property qualifications to vote. If they were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of 35 or graduates of British universities they were able to vote. A few months later the December 1918 General Election presented women with their first opportunity to vote. One woman was elected to the House of Commons out of 17 female candidates. A Sinn Fein MP, Constance Markiewicz, successfully won but refused to take her seat in line with Sinn Fein party policy. Nancy Astor would become the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons after being elected in a by-election for Plymouth Sutton. A year later, on 23rd December, royal assent was given to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, allowing women to enter the professions.
Legislative change finally began to establish gender equality. Cultural changes reflected and instigated further steps toward gender equality as well. In 1918 Dr. Marie Stopes authored ‘Married Love’, a book that taught readers about birth control. Her book was in its sixth printing within a fortnight of its release, groundbreaking in that it challenged the idea that female sexual enjoyment was improper. Teaching reproductive control was an essential prerequisite to female freedom. The first bra was patented in 1914 by American Mary Jacobs.
The years from 1910 to 1919 were an extraordinary time for Britain. The First World War was warfare of an unprecedented nature and scale. But even before the outbreak of war on 4th August 1914, there was a snowballing momentum for social change. At the armistice of 1918 London went ‘wild with delight’, and the last two years of the decade were a time of great relief for the nation.
Before women were permitted, from 1920 onwards, to serve on the grand and trial juries which were responsible for the final determination of a person’s guilt or liability, they had occasionally been empanelled on “juries of matrons”. The most common reason for such a jury to be put together was if, on being convicted of a crime which carried the death penalty, a woman pleaded that she was pregnant. Unwilling to take two lives for a single person’s crime, the law then needed to know whether the woman was “quick” with child (whether she really was pregnant and, as a proxy for viability, whether the foetus had started to move – if the answer to either of these questions was “no”, the woman’s pregnancy plea would fail).
When a woman facing a sentence of death pleaded pregnancy, an all-female jury of “matrons” (generally, older women who were expected to have had some practical experience with pregnancy) would be put together. Because, prior to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, women were not ordinarily entitled to serve on juries, a pregnancy plea would be swiftly followed by the court’s officials locking all the doors in order to trap the women in attendance. As with jury service generally, the presumption was that few people would volunteer to serve on a jury of matrons.
Once empanelled, the matrons would retire into a private room with the prisoner, in order to carry out a physical examination. As late as 1906, the matrons responsible for examining Carrie Thomas at the Cornwall assizes conducted this examination themselves; although by the early twentieth century the usual practice was for them to hear expert evidence from a doctor. Even before this practice was universally followed, the Home Office might follow an unfavourable verdict of the matrons with reports from prison doctors, in order to give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt. But despite these moves towards a prioritisation of professional medical knowledge, the matrons always retained a right to carry out an independent examination; although by the early twentieth century it was unusual for them to exercise this right.
While a pregnancy verdict technically only postponed an execution, in practice the sentence was always commuted to life imprisonment (which, in turn, generally meant about five to ten years in prison). Government was often lobbied, both by concerned members of the public and by politicians such as Ray Strachey and Lady Astor, to inform the prisoner as quickly as possible that her sentence would be commuted, and to consider dropping altogether the cruel formality of a sentence of death which the lawyers – though not necessarily the prisoner, her friends, or her family – knew had no prospect of completion.
A major turning point came in 1931, with the trial and conviction of Olive Wise (pictured above). Mrs Wise had determined that her only hope lay in the workhouse and, having asked her landlady to sell her possessions in order to cover her unpaid rent, she had sent her fourth illegitimate child to live with his father, Alfred Wheatley. When she got to the workhouse, however, Wise was told to come back the next day, when the institution’s administrators expected to be less busy. On returning home, she found that Mr Wheatley had delivered the child to Wise’s mother, who had in turn returned the child to Wise herself. Wise suffocated her son in her landlady’s gas oven, before immediately visiting her neighbour in order to confess. After her conviction at the Old Bailey, a jury of matrons, drawn from the existing pool of female jurors, heard medical evidence and found that she was seven months pregnant with another child of Mr Wheatley’s. The judge sentenced her to death, postponing execution until after the birth of her child; and three days later, the Home Office officially commuted her sentence to life imprisonment.
Following the Wise case, the MP Edith Picton-Turbervill (also pictured above) brought in a Private Member’s Bill for the abolition of the death penalty for pregnant women. Her legislation would bring the law in the books into line with the practice of the courts, ending the misleading expectation of an execution which was never going to happen. The Bill passed its first reading easily, and the Home Office quickly sought to persuade the Prime Minister, Ramsey Macdonald, to take it on as a government Bill. The Prime Minister was reluctant – what if he set a precedent and was also expected to take on the Rubber Industries Bill, or one of any number of other Private Member’s Bills? Picton-Turbervill eventually managed to prevail upon him with an appeal to realpolitik:
Both men and women desire the passing of this Bill. If however you would care to satisfy a large number of the organised Women’s Societies, at what would be very little cost of Government time, this is an opportunity to do so.
Picton-Turbervill was right. The Bill, drafted in its final form by government lawyers, passed both Houses swiftly, and almost without parliamentary comment.
The Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Act 1931 ended the formal recording of the death sentence on pregnant women found guilty of capital crimes, and brought English law in line with Scottish law by extending this rule to all women, regardless of whether “quickening” had yet occurred. It put a reverse burden of proof on the prisoner, requiring her to prove her pregnancy, and in so doing it formalised the existing procedure’s de facto medicalisation. The jury must now reach its verdict solely on the basis of the evidence submitted to it, and not on the basis of its own independent investigations. Finally, the Act abolished the jury of matrons itself. A jury would still determine the pregnancy issue, following a special plea by the prisoner after conviction, but the jury would no longer be made up exclusively of older women with a presumed experience with pregnancy. Rather, the prisoner’s trial jury would be used, a jury which, following the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, might sometimes include some women.
Written by Kay Crosby. Kay is a lecturer in law at Newcastle University and First 100 Years Champion. She is currently working on a project, funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust and Newcastle University, exploring the use of female jurors in 1920s England.
This piece gives a snapshot of the state of affairs in legal academia for women, what challenges are faced by female students of law, and what the consequences of these issues are for the legal profession.
In 2014 over 50 senior Cambridge academics called on the university to change its staff appointment procedure because the existing system favoured men. Despite accounting for 45% of the academic workforce, women hold only 20% professorships in UK universities. Dame Carol Black, who spoke at the 2015 First 100 Years conference, said that women need to build their self-confidence and pushing forward in the face of set-backs. She exemplifies this relentless approach for progress, having put herself forward for a number promotions that she didn’t get in the past but continuing relatively undeterred:
My career has constantly been about overcoming low expectations of what women could achieve and the contribution they could make…women need to learn to be kinder to other women in business: all managers and leaders need to learn to be more flexible and open-minded about the candidate who is going to fill that senior post…In academia you are only as good as your last paper so…aiming high is vital…women should also look out for opportunities to support and champion other women. We can look to influential men to help us progress and develop but we need to turn to eachother too.
Dame Carol Black thus acknowledges the difficulty for women in reaching the upper echelons of academia and the concurrent necessity therefore of women looking to eachother to overcome these difficulties. A need of a change of mind-set is clearly articulated, but women being kinder to eachother is by no means the fundamental solution for a lack of gender diversity at the senior level of legal academia. Asiya Islam, currently doing a phD in Sociology at Cambridge, has commented that:
Structural and systemic bias in policies and procedures favour white men, and changing these is the only way to remedy the current shocking scarcity of women in higher positions.
Islam cited Clifford Chance as an example of a firm that has initiated new mechanisms to counteract structural and systemic bias through their CV-blind policy to improve recruitment of ethnic minority candidates.
Both Asiya Islam and Dame Carol Black reveal in their arguments that the implications of gender imbalance at universities stretch into the workplace with a real and lamentable impact on the advancement of women’s careers. Lanie Guinier conducted a study on law schools, concluding that women are less likely to speak in class, and do so for a shorter amount of time, than their male peers. Aside from encouraging smaller classes in favour of the traditionally large classrooms, she also advocates that more women faculty should be hired to encourage ‘multi consciousness’. Multi-consciousness, says Guinier, allows students to draw on a number of different perspectives when deciding how to solve problems, an important mind-set to foster in future lawyers.
Law school professors treat women differently from men, and as institutions, law schools cultivate and reward patterns of behaviour that are more likely to be found among men than among women, even though these behaviours do not necessarily reflect the skills students need to be good lawyers, judges, and legal academics.
(Sari Bashi and Maryana Iskander, 2006)
Beyond this, more women in positions of prominence in legal academia means that important mentoring schemes to be put into place for female law students. Mentoring relationships are very beneficial, something that Linda Dobbs has testified to in her First 100 Years interview.
In 1919, at the start of the journey of women working in the legal profession, First 100 Years celebrates the milestones of the first women to qualify as lawyers and to work as solicitors in firms. Very happily things have changed, and 100 years later women are firmly embedded in the legal sector. But they are not firmly embedded at the top of the legal sector, whether it be as judges on the high courts, or in professorships at universities. One of the next milestones is therefore to see a greater representation of women at the higher end of the profession, and progress is too slow currently. This article has set out some of the ways to map the uncharted waters, such as Clifford Chance’s initiative of a cv-blind policy. Using quotas to ensure that more women will be working at senior levels in legal academia would be another tool to address the very prominent absence of women at the top.
Guest Post by Elizabeth Cruickshank
When Maud Crofts was formally admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales on 11 January 1923 she realised an ambition for which she had been working for more than a decade.
Maud Isabel Crofts, (nee Ingram) was born in 1889, one of the twelve children of Middle Temple barrister, Thomas Lewis Ingram and his wife Victoria Skinner. Maud was a robust child who went on to study at Girton College, Cambridge where she obtained honours in both the History and Law Tripos and, having captained the Cambridge Women’s Colleges Six against Oxford for two years, was awarded a Tennis Blue. In an intellectually able family, where all her brothers studied at Cambridge University and one sister became a doctor, Maud was acknowledged as being “the bright one”, believing that education was the only way that women could attain equality with men.
She had been attracted to the Law when her parents permitted her as a child to copy out the deeds of a house that they had bought and she recognised the controlling power of legal documents. Later she felt keenly that it was an “injustice” that her father’s gardener had the right to vote, while she, an educated woman, had not. This led her to use her considerable oratorical skills to campaign for the right of all women to vote on the same basis as men, regarding herself as a suffragist rather than a suffragette. Her view was that women would get nowhere “by chucking themselves in front of race horses or tying themselves to railings, it had all to be done in a legal way”.
In 1913, only months after she had completed her studies in History and Law at Cambridge she and three other young women (Lucy Nettlefold and Karin Costelloe from Cambridge and Gwyneth Bebb from Oxford) unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the courts that the Law Society should be compelled to admit them to its preliminary examinations (Bebb v Law Society  1 Ch. 286). Undeterred by this rejection, she joined the Committee for the Opening of the Legal Profession to Women whose efforts eventually resulted in the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) in December 1919. She had been motivated by her profound belief that it was surely “an intolerable hardship that a woman, at a time perhaps of great need, should have to face a male judge, supported only by a male advocate who from the very fact of his sex is often quite unable to express his client’s point of view. In cases where children are concerned, it is also obvious that the services of a woman barrister or solicitor would often be of immense value.”
She spent much of the First World War engaged in social work focused on women and children and campaigning for suffrage and women’s right to practise the law, in furtherance of which she gained experience in a solicitor’s office, although she had to wait until the passing of the 1919 Act to be able to begin formal training as a solicitor. In June 1922, six months before she sat her Finals examination, she married John Cecil Crofts, a young solicitor who worked in the same office at 5 New Square, and after her admission as a solicitor they set up in practice together with her brother, Robert Ingram.
For many middle-class women of that era, marriage and certainly the advent of children, meant the end of any personal career ambitions, but Maud Crofts was not willing to give up either her hard fought-for status as one of the first four women solicitors or the possibility of replicating the happy family life she had enjoyed as a child. She continued practising as a solicitor until ill-health forced her to retire at the age of 66, on the basis that her husband and brother would each take two fifths of the partnership profits while she received the remaining one fifth so that she could leave work every day in time to meet her two children from school. Her daughter Rosemary and her grand-daughter, Mary, both followed her into the legal profession, thus becoming England’s first three generational family of women solicitors.
In common with several of her legal friends, she wrote and spoke copiously about women’s legal rights, often outlining their changing position as citizens and in politics over the previous decades. As a family law expert, who was the solicitor for charities such as the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child and legal adviser to the Six Point Group, she was particularly qualified to advise women’s groups on marriage, divorce and the custody of children. Her 1925 book “Women under English Law”, a succinct description of women’s legal status at that time and the law which was of particular relevance to them, was the first book to be written by a British woman lawyer on women’s position in society. So well did she demonstrate the special qualities that women could bring to the practice of the Law that that many of her clients, some of whom were wealthy feminists who had entrusted her with their affairs, removed their business from the family firm because they wanted to deal only with women.
We women want not privileges but equality. We do not want to be treated as children, and we are willing to take the responsibility if we get the privileges.
On this day, 4th July, 240 years ago, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, establishing that 13 American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation. The Declaration came at the end of bloody revolutionary wars in America. The economic and political pressures associated with wartime resulted in the roles of women undergoing significant change. This article will look at how the wars of American Independence affected women, in comparison with the experience of British women in wartime nearly 200 years later in the First World War.
In the Revolutionary Wars, as in the First and Second World Wars in Europe, women were officially non-combatants. Women took charge of businesses and farms, gathered intelligence, worked as nurses on battlefields, and fed the armies. After the revolutionary wars, many American women came forward with claims for compensation for destroyed property, accounts of which demonstrate their keen grasp of household finances and the administrative structures they were operating within. Women had risen to the challenge of taking on the responsibilities normally the preserve of men. They participated extensively in the economic side of warfare with their action in the Homespun Movement, which avoided the luxurious British manufactured imports by making cheaper cloth out of simple weaving techniques. The tea boycott conducted by women for years before the Boston Tea Party of 1773 is a further example of women using their power of purchase to resist British rule.
There was also the peculiar phenomenon that in the American revolutionary wars many women accompanied men into battlefields as ‘Camp Followers’, working immersively with the troops. Tales of wartime heroines such as Margaret Corbin, who took-up her husband’s post at the cannon after he was killed, reflect that women in the wars of independence possessed and used the skills of male soldiers. Molly Pitcher is another figure celebrated for her combative role. It is thought that ‘Molly Pitcher’ was in fact a composite of a number of women directly involved in battles, demonstrating that women probably served in revolutionary armies in larger numbers than is usually assumed. Women were therefore important participants in the revolutionary wars on domestic and battlefield fronts. In the interests of creating a strong, successful Republic, the education of women was encouraged after Independence for the sole purpose that women could then educate their children to be good citizens. Beyond this endorsement for female education, women did not see their social or political status undergo significant change as a direct consequence of the Wars of Independence.
By contrast, the Representation of the People Act 1918, which enfranchised house-holding women over the age of 30 is often understood as a ‘reward’ granted to women after the First World War. This analysis is not entirely accurate, but there was a genuine recognition for the sacrifice and patriotic duty that women had displayed during the war. Over a million women joined the workforce between 1914-18, many of them working in munitions factories; work which was often dangerous and sometimes deadly. They worked as fire-fighters, police officers, worked on farms, and generally made up the labour shortfall created by men leaving to the front. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was also created as a uniformed service of women to assist in the war at home and abroad. Their formal employment, in contrast to women who also contributed informally to the war effort during the Wars of Independence, arguably meant that they were perceived as having a more concrete contribution to the war, and therefore were worthy of greater recognition. However, after the war, women were strongly discouraged from working in traditionally male professions.
The significant legal rights gained by women immediately after the First World War demonstrates that the practical ways in which women were given opportunities during wartime also translated to greater political freedoms. By contrast, the Wars of Independence did not lead to an enshrinement of rights for women. Both periods of war however, were eras when women experienced unprecedented levels and varieties of employment opportunity. The dramatic upheaval of the war experience meant that gender roles became briefly more fluid, specifically in that sex-based divisions of labour were not articulated as strongly because of the economic pressures at play. In 2019, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act demonstrated that pervasive attitudes towards women working in the professions had fundamentally shifted, thus beginning the trailblazing journey of women working in law in the twentieth and twenty-first century.
A tradition of strike action in the twentieth century resulted in legislative changes that shaped workers’ rights in Britain. This article briefly examines two successful strikes in Britain, 80 years apart, which were led by women. These two examples readjust the historical lens that traditionally sees change as initiated by men, instead drawing attention to how women instigated progress for their working conditions. The first case study looks at how agitation resulted in genuine change for working women without legislation. The second sees strike action directly leading to changes in the law which established and protected female workers’ rights. Both a celebration of exploited and vulnerable individuals coming together to defy the odds of the existing power structures to create positive change.
The London Match Women’s strike of 1888 involved 1,400 women and girls protesting their wages and working environment. Mainly residing in the ‘great abyss of poverty’ of the East End, these women rose steadfast against the immensely powerful company Bryant and May. Their employees worked in gruelling conditions typical of Victorian factories; 14-hour days, fines for talking, and pay cuts for taking bathroom breaks were all commonplace. Several short-term factors exacerbated frustrations, including wages being driven down harshly. Bryant and Mays’ workers were also subjected to severely detrimental conditions resulting in considerable health risks from working with cheap phosphorous in the matches they produced. ‘Phossy jaw’ was a terrible type of bone cancer, excruciatingly painful and often with fatal consequences. Taking action, a Matchgirls’ Union was created and after three weeks of striking, the management eventually made concessions acceptable to the workers. Negative publicity, directed by middle-class activist Annie Besant, overwhelmed the owners of the factory, although it would take until 1908 for white phosphorous to be banned. The success of the strike was unprecedented, plays and musicals were written about the triumph of the Matchwomen, and Bryant & May was dogged by the notorious association until it stopped trading in 1979.
80 years later, the Ford Motor Co. plant sewing machinist strike of 1968 took place, and eventually resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act. 187 women took action in protest against their work being unfairly downgraded as unskilled and their pay being 15% lower than their male colleagues. The strikers left work for three weeks and mobilised the strike of 195 more women from another Ford plant in Merseyside. Car production was entirely brought to a standstill as a result. Barbara Castle, employment secretary at the time, invited the strike committee to tea in a compelling act of empathy with the struggle of the sewing machinist women. The Ford women strikers managed to reduce the pay gap from 15% to 8%, though this process took another 16 years and a further seven-week strike to win.In common with the Matchwomen’s Strike of 1888, the Dagenham Ford Strike became a popular sensation. The 2010 film Made in Dagenham dramatizes the strike and a stage musical opened in 2014 celebrating their feat of courage.
These two female-led strikes took place in such different eras that the physical conditions of the two workplaces would look markedly different; by 1968 working with deadly phosphorous was not a risk suffered by the Dagenham Ford employees. But the similarities between the cases are many, in that they successfully brought about profound changes in working conditions for women, and captivated public sentiments with the bravery and call to action against exploitative employers that they made.
In 1974, Barbara Calvert QC, later known as Lady Lowry, was the first woman to be a Head of Chambers when she founded 4 Brick Court. Eight years later she broke another glass ceiling as the first woman to become a Bencher at Middle Temple in 1982.
Born on 30th April 1926 in Leeds, Barbara was the daughter of Albert Parker CBE, a chemical engineer, and his wife Lilian. She was educated at St. Helen’s School in London and studied economics at LSE. Barbara married John Calvert, a civil engineer specialising in sewers and drains in 1948, and they had two children, Paul and Sandra.
It was a New Year’s Eve party when Barbara first considered a career in law, encouraged to do so by a friend of her husband. Aged 33, Barbara was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1959, at a time when only 3% of barristers were women, and joined the chambers of John Platts-Mills. From spending her time raising her two children, Paul and Sandra and “feeding the ducks in all the London parks”, she catapulted into the world of law, specialising in family law, and quickly gained a reputation for treating her clients like royalty.
Barbara formed her own chambers, motivated by a desire to represent those who would otherwise be unable to afford to seek justice through the courts, and to help young barristers who were struggling to find tenancy. In doing so, she challenged the male-dominated hierarchy prevailing at the time, and 4 Brick Court was swiftly nicknamed ‘the Monstrous Regimen of Women’. Looking back in 1994, Barbara said “they didn’t want us to succeed’, but despite the hostile atmosphere, the chambers flourished, and its founding ethos to help young lawyers starting out remains an inspiration for newly qualified barristers. Her support of six young barristers to set up their own chambers at 2 Plowden Buildings in 1977 further demonstrates her unwavering commitment to younger lawyers, and the chambers is still running today as 1 Pump Court.
In 1975 Barbara became a QC, and was the first female QC to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, successfully challenging the UK government for breaching a convention, as it failed to give parents a legal right to apply for contact with their children who were in the care of a local authority. She was appointed a Recorder in 1980 and in 1982 was elected the first female Bencher of Middle Temple.
Upon leaving chambers in 1986, Barbara became the first woman to be appointed the Chair of the Industrial Tribunals, a judicial body dealing with employment law matters in Northern Ireland. Aged 75, Barbara became chairperson of the Grandparents’ Federation, working on behalf of grandparents separated from their grandchildren and advocating the importance of the child’s wider family and support networks.
John died in 1987, and in 1994 Barbara married Robert Lowry, Baron Lowry, former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. Barbara established a student scholarship in his memory at Middle Temple after his death in 1999.
Barbara died on 22nd July 2015 aged 89. Her commitment to justice and her fierce determination have left a legacy proving that, in her words: “there is no height a woman cannot scale”.
The fifth woman to sit in the Court of Appeal writes about the women in law who have inspired her during her career. In February 2013 she was called the 8th most powerful woman in Britain by Woman’s Hour. We are honoured to be featuring her fascinating story as part of the First 100 Years Project.
On Ivy Williams:
‘She is someone who never practised as a lawyer but who opened the door for other women to do so and for women to expand their horizons generally. She did not chain herself to railings or throw herself under the King’s horse. She patiently and persistently knocked at the door of the bar, a male bastion if ever there was one.’
Read the full article here
The first female jurors sat at the Bristol Quarter Sessions in 1920. These women were the first to step into a traditionally male role in the justice system. But there was in fact already a specifically female role in English common law, though it had become obsolete by the twentieth century, if not before. The Jury of Matrons was used from the 13th century when a woman involved in a legal dispute claimed she was pregnant.
A jury of matrons would be called for a number of reasons. If a widow claimed to be pregnant with her late husband’s child, a civil jury of matrons would be summoned by a writ de ventre inspiciendo ‘to inspect the belly’. They would either confirm or deny her pregnancy, which would affect the passage of property to the man’s brother or father. It was also used in criminal juries of matrons if a woman was sentenced to death. If a convicted woman were ‘quick with child’ they would be afforded a temporary stay of execution until after birth. This was based on the medieval assumption that an unborn child is not alive until the ‘quickening’: when the movement of the foetus could be felt.
The Jury of Matrons was used to determine pregnancy primarily because it was thought ‘foolish and indelicate’ to ask men to examine the body of a female litigant or prisoner. With the developments in medical expertise in the nineteenth century, doctors increasingly displaced matrons as the authoritative voice on pregnancy. The eventual Criminal Code introduced in 1879 provided for the abolition of jury of matrons, substituting instead the use of a medical practitioner to examine a woman.
There are two known cases in the twentieth century of using a jury of matrons. Ada Annie Williams was convicted at the Central Criminal Court in 1913 for the murder of her young son, but was reprieved until delivery due to her pregnancy. Her case had created something of a sensation in the press and for the public, and a Jury of Matrons was convened to examine her, delivering a verdict that she was indeed pregnant. She gave birth to a boy in Holloway Prison and was discharged on license in 1921. In 1917, a woman named Stevens was convicted of infanticide and sentenced to death but claimed pregnancy. A jury of matrons was impanelled to hear medical evidence and then a verdict was given that the prisoner was pregnant. This led to a respite in the death sentence.
The use of Juries of Matrons came under contemporary criticism for alleged collusion between the matrons and the women pleading their belly. The evidence for this is limited, and instead demonstrates the anxieties about women working together to subvert the legal system. The Jury of Matrons demonstrates that the earlier English legal system used traditional assumed gender roles in such a way that women had a specific role in common law.
James Oldham, Trial by Jury: The Seventh Amendment and Anglo-American Special Juries’
Jan Bondeson, Murder Houses of South London
The First 100 Years project celebrates the right to enter the legal profession afforded by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919. The year before, women were politically enfranchised by the Right to Vote. But how did the law in the twentieth century continue to influence how women spent their money?
Money is one of our most powerful tools of communication. Historians and economists pore over people’s spending patterns to gauge what they value and are interested in. Despite the great significance of how we spend money, throughout the twentieth century there were legal restrictions on how women used their money.
A true landmark case had caused upheaval in the reality of the relationship between women and money in the late nineteenth century. The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 restored the legal identity of wives as separate from their husbands and meant that they could own and control property in their own right. Previously, the doctrine of couverture had meant that a woman’s legal rights and obligations were subsumed by her husband after marriage, making her a dependent, similar to an under-age child.
Leaping forward a few decades into the 1950s, and the issues concerning women and their money were of a different nature. In the 1950s and 1960s it became common for married women to work, at least on a part-time basis. Technology transformed the domestic sphere by reducing housework, making it easier for women to enter employment. By 1959 two thirds of British homes had a vacuum cleaner, leaving two thirds of married women with greater opportunities to engage in paid work. Additionally, the growth in service industries led to greater opportunities for female employment. However, progress was slow in gaining legislative support for fair pay and employment opportunities. The World Wars had created a somewhat hostile economic climate for women in that patriarchal anxieties had been heightened by the severe losses in the numbers of young, healthy men.
It took until 1961 for legislation to come into effect to pay female teachers and female civil servants the same amount as their male counterparts. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 had established that women and men would be paid the same for doing the same job, and five years later in 1975 it became illegal to sack a woman for becoming pregnant. Strikes had been an essential trigger to the Equal Pay Act, as shown by the Ford sewing machinist strike of 1968 who played a ‘very significant part in the history of the struggle for equal pay’ according to MP Shirley Summerskill. Striking patterns continued to agitate for change in gender wages into the1980s, with the Hoover strike in Merthyr Tydfil in response to redundancy plans which had a ‘women out first’ policy.
UK law has moved in an emancipatory direction in terms of how it controls how women spend their money. Before 1982 women trying to spend their money in English pubs could legally be refused service, a reflection of the older societal norms that had established pubs as a ‘male-only’ social place. A traditional Fleet Street bar, El Vino, banned women to a back room in the name of chivalry. The origin of the ban was thought to date to the Second World War to prevent unescorted women of ill repute picking up customers. Protests against the rules had made themselves heard over a decade earlier, when in 1970 a group of female journalists demanded to be served because ‘our money is equal so our rights must be equal’. In the 1970s women could legally be refused the right to go drink unaccompanied.
The past century and a half has seen women and the law undergo significant developments with regard to their property and how they spend money. Equal pay remains to be a contentious issue in the UK; in 2013 there was a 19.7% gender based pay gap.
Postcards provide an entertaining insight into popular imagination. Used by ‘ordinary’ people, as well as the ‘great men’ of history, the well-known images used on postcards reveal what appealed to contemporary tastes or interests. A flurry of propagandistic postcards circulating in the early twentieth century demonstrate what anxieties and hopes were also in circulation on the subject of women entering professional employment in Britain.
Postcards are still a remarkably popular means of communication, and are kept as souvenirs in the same way that Edwardians sent postcards with a mind to collecting them; the phrase ‘one for your album’ was common in messages on postcards. The medium is characterised by immediacy and informality; they could be delivered in less than a day and their writers used shorthand to communicate brief notes to eachother. There light-heartedness and ease of communication by postcard is reflected in the images used, which were easily recognisable tropes, stereotypes, and depictions of important events.
The subject matter is incredibly broad, but this brief discussion will look at working women on postcards, particularly female lawyers. Fish carriers and oyster gatherers, who were nearly always working-class women, were often depicted respectfully by postcard images. By contrast, when a woman in the legal profession was the subject matter on a postcard, they were often derided and caricatured for transgressing into traditionally male workplaces. Whilst the fish carrier might be shown demurely going about her work, the female lawyer would be causing chaos in the courtroom. Jules Royer published a series entitled ‘The Female Lawyer’, where a woman appears in court attempting giving a defence speech whilst struggling to breastfeed, change nappies, and complete other childcare duties. What this reveals about Edwardian attitudes to women working is that women could work by all means, so long as they were employed in tasks suitable to their gender. Female doctors for example, were not quite antagonistic to societal expectations of women because of the caring nature of their work, and therefore did not attract such mockery as female lawyers in postcard imagery.
Another genre of postcard depiction of female lawyers speaks to the humour of postcard imagery. Women dressed in the traditional garb of barristers and judges are posed to look out of place, exaggerating the incompatibility of male clothing on female bodies. The great number of suffragette themed postcards from the early decades of the twentieth century substantiate that prejudices and anxieties about gender equality were a dominant theme in politics for all sections of society. That women entering the legal profession was also a theme on postcards situates the new role of women working in law as one of the great upheavals in the social structure in Britain.
I should like to see more and more women at Westminster, and in the highest places, too. It would certainly be a good thing for the women of Britain. And I’m sure it would be a good thing for the men, too!’.
As well as two term prime minister of the UK, in 1953 Margaret Thatcher practiced briefly as a barrister. She specialised in tax and patent law, having passed her bar finals just four months after giving birth to twins. Her political career overshadows her brief spell as a lawyer, but whilst managing her professional and family life at this early stage she became an early example of women who were showing that they could ‘have it all’. These women had a family and also a career, a combination that Thatcher claimed was essential for the satisfaction of women who wanted a professional life. Her passion for the subject is reflected in the articles she wrote exhorting women to pursue their career ambitions, and the optimism she clearly felt in the context of Elizabeth II’s succession to the throne.
In 1952, the Sunday Graphic, commissioned an article by Margaret Thatcher called. Margaret Thatcher expressed her hopes in this piece that more women would combine marriage and a career, although she wrote also of her awareness that women themselves were often prejudiced against the idea. She argued that the role of women in the ‘dawn of the new Elizabethan era’ was fundamentally different, and Margaret framed her vision for ‘career women’ in terms of the new female head of state. That a woman had risen to a position of incredibly symbolic power was clearly a source of inspiration for Thatcher. She made an example of the widely praised Rose Heilbron QC, who was ‘known throughout the land’ for her career, showing just how much a charming and capable woman could achieve.
In a second article, ‘Finding Time’, Margaret Thatcher dealt more directly with the practical considerations for managing motherhood and a career. Her advice is uncompromising and direct- she was ‘astonished by how little some people seem to do’ in the 24 hours of the day. She concedes that certain factors are essential if a dual role is to be successful, a woman with a family for example must have trusted and competent help with children. A supportive husband who approves of his wife pursuing another occupation was also important in her description of the pre-requisites for women managing a family and a career. Despite the blunt style, Margaret Thatcher has a simple remedy for women struggling with time management, arguing that ‘with a little forethought she will find that most things are possible’.
Her strong advocacy of women combining families with careers contradicts the stereotype that Margaret Thatcher typified the ‘Queen Bee’ phenomenon, where women in leadership roles disassociate from their own gender and discourage female competitors as an act of self-preservation. Despite her contentious policies as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was a definite champion of women having a career, and in the early years of the 1950s, with a new Queen on the throne, there were inspirational role models demonstrating that it could be done.
Due to her position as constitutional monarch, the Queen is more a woman above the law than a woman in law. Due to this position, Her Majesty has a unique relationship with the UK legal system, a relationship that can provoke both interest and criticism.
This weekend the nation will celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, and in 2015 the UK marked the 63rd year of her reign, which made her the longest-reigning monarch of Britain. She wields considerable symbolic power in the law, as well as a singular vantage point of perspective to view the legal profession.
The relationship between monarch and law was embroiled with particular ideological conflict until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which led to the end of the Divine Right of Kings. The principle of Divine Right asserted that the monarch was subject to no earthly authority, instead deriving their right to rule directly from God. After 1688, the sovereign remained the symbolic heart of the justice system, still evident today in that, for example, barristers who take silk become ‘Queen’s Counsel’.
There are also very real practical implications for the monarch’s special relationship with the law. For example, all prosecutions are brought in the name of the Crown, e.g. Crown vs. x or R (Regina) vs. x. The Crown Proceedings Act 1947 provided for civil proceedings to be taken against the Crown, but the person of the monarch is still immune from prosecution. In 2002, Baroness Helena Kennedy commented that nowadays ‘immunity is questionable’, given that if the Queen prevented a fair trial by refusing to appear as a witness it would undermine her position in the public’s view. However, Lord St John of Fawsley, a constitutional expert, argued that requiring the Queen to face cross-examination in court would be ‘contrary to all the principles of jurisprudence’.
Royal assent is another interesting facet of the monarch’s interaction with the UK legal system. The monarch must give royal assent in order for an Act of Parliament to complete its final stage and become UK law. Queen Anne was the last monarch to refuse royal assent when she vetoed the 1708 Scottish Militia Bill, following advice from her ministers that the bill would create a disloyal militia. The crucial involvement of The Queen, albeit symbolically, in the passage of legislation, demonstrates the monarch’s continued role in the legal system.
Royal Consent is a principle distinct from Royal Assent, and refers to the consent required from the crown for the debating of bills in Parliament that could affect the ‘personal interests’ of the monarchy. In 2013 a confidential pamphlet, establishing the circumstances under which Royal Consent is required, was released after PhD student John Kirkhope requested the pamphlet under the Freedom of Information Act. Since 1990, Royal consent has been refused to at least three bills, on the advice of government.
The Queen has reigned over decades of incredible change for women working in the legal profession. As a woman serving as the ‘fount of justice’ for the UK, The Queen has a significant involvement in the legal profession today, and has witnessed the way it has changed for women working throughout law.
I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else, I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.
We interviewed Slaughter & May Corporate Partner Frances Murphy in December 2015. We were saddened to hear the news of her death on 25 May 2016. Legal Week have featured our film with her in which “Murphy discusses everything from her motivation for becoming a lawyer to her love of deals and the reality of life as a City lawyer.”
Born in Manchester into a well-off family, Joyanne Bracewell was educated largely at home and became a talented child actor. As a young teenager in 1948 she appeared in two comedy films and seemed destined for a career as an actress. Baroness Brenda Hale suggested that this acting training contributed to her outstandingly clear diction and beautiful voice that she deployed in court. She moved away from a career on the stage, going to read law at Manchester University instead, and when she was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 1955 it was clear that performing on the stage of courts would be her future.
Although she was the most senior judge of the family division, promoted to the high court from the circuit bench in 1990, she later spoke of the difficulties she experienced early on at the bar. The bar was still an inhospitable place for women when she joined, they were banned, for example, from attending bar mess dinners. Joyanne said at the 2006 annual dinner of the Family Law Bar Association that successive senior clerks rebuffed her attempts to find a seat when she was trying to join, and when she finally achieved a tenancy she had to sign her documents as ‘J. Bracewell’, as a precaution against solicitors discovering her gender.
However, despite these challenges, in 1978 she was appointed Queen’s Counsel, and in 1983 was made a circuit judge. In an unusual move she was subsequently made a high court judge in 1990, out of recognition for her expertise and expert knowledge about the new Children Act 1989, which she had implemented. She became one of two women among the 84 judges on the High Court bench, and was an inspiration to other women who followed her, including Baroness Brenda Hale and Janet Smith.
Known for a ‘quiet approach’, she was also very empathetic about the family problems she was resolving, approaching them with great care and humanity. In 2004 she took the unusual step of opening her court to the public to deliver judgment on her decision to transfer childcare from a mother to a father, a move that was applauded by Fathers4Justice as a sign that she was ‘one of the more enlightened members of the judiciary’. Throughout her career she was known in court for her courteous manner and measured approach, no matter what kind of provocation she received from difficult litigants or advocates.
Bracewell supported the Family Law Bar Association fervently, taking a keen interest in young people rising through the profession. She also took an interest in antiques, cookery, and wildlife conservation. She died on 9th January 2007, aged 72, leaving a legacy of inspiration for the multitude of female lawyers for who she was a role-model.
The UK’s supreme court should be “ashamed” if it does not radically improve its diversity in the next round of judicial appointments, according to its only female judge, Lady Hale.
First 100 Years is delighted to share the story of BT’s first female lawyer, Mrs. Chaya Ray. Chaya and her ex-colleagues at BT have been able to tell us about her story in becoming their first female lawyer.
She was born on 21st August 1931, and was called to the bar in 1957. She completed her pupillage in Calcutta in India. She practiced in the High Court of Calcutta, but returned to England in 1960 after getting married.
Chaya then joined the John Lewis Partnership in 1961, working as a legal assistant in their small in-house Legal Department, which was all female. Subsequently, she applied to the Government Legal Service of the Civil Service Commission, and was appointed in 1963 to the Solicitor’s Department of the Post Office, which was at this stage a government department. She was the first female lawyer in the Post Office, receiving equal pay with the men for her work as a legal assistant. Chaya referred to a bound volume of the 1833 Telegraph Acts as her ‘Bible’, as they formed the statutory basis for the provisions of telecommunications services until the Post Office Act 1969.
This act provided for the transformation of the Post Office from a Government department to a public corporation run on more commercial lines. Chaya was sent as a delegate to a conference of government department lawyers to consider the proposals for reforming the Civil Service. Having worked with a focus in telecommunications business, she decided to join the new legal department of the BT Corporation, created in 1981. Colin Green, who became BT’s General Counsel and Company Secretary, was Mrs. Ray’s manager and remembers here as ‘ a charming lady, well-spoken and very cultured…she always wore beautiful saris in the office’. Not only was Chaya the first female lawyer at BT, she was also an ethnic minority, meaning that she was a true trailblazer during her career. After the BT was privatized in 1985 she took early retirement and turned to judicial work.
The Lord Chancellor’s Department appointed her as part-time chairman of three appeal tribunals on social security, disability, and Rent Assessment Committees. From 1990 to 2001 Chaya then worked as a Justice of the Peace of the Middlesex Area Commission, and was also appointed to Advisory Committees on Justices of the Peace, headed by a High Court Judge. She finally retired from legal work at the age of 70 in 2001.
Chaya Ray is an inspiring and dedicated woman. As the first woman and Asian to work in the legal services at the Post Office and BT she lived through a time of increasing diversity in business in the UK.
These excerpts are special previews from Baroness Brenda Hale’s video interview capture her experiences of working in the legal profession, which is currently still in edit and will be published soon. We are honoured to share the details of her experiences and journey working in the legal profession.
The journey of women in law was a very slow one at first. Women were not really visible in the law at all, but everything has changed since then. I was the middle of three daughters, we went to the local girls high school. I think there were 179 pupils there most of the time. That was, of course, half the number of places that there were at the boys school, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized the injustice of this, that they didn’t think rural girls needed educating in the same way as the rural boys. Hardly any of the teachers were married because in those days you tended to have to choose between marriage and a family and in fact I grew up thinking that’s probably what you had to do, because my mother was of the generation of trained women teachers who were obliged to give up work when they married in the 1930s. But it was wonderful, because when my father died very suddenly when I was thirteen she picked herself up, dusted off her teaching qualifications and became headmistress of the village Primary School, and looking back what a wonderful role model she was. Both my parents were wonderful role models because they believed in us girls; it was taken for granted that we would go to university, although only 5 or 6% population went to university.
My headmistress thought I stood a reasonable chance of getting in to Oxford or Cambridge. My best subject at school was history, but she was a historian and said ‘well Brenda, I don’t think you’re a natural historian, shall we try and find something else for you to study?’ I’d done constitutional history as part of my history course and I suggested law. Instead of saying ‘nonsense girl, girls don’t do law’ or ‘they only do law if law is in their family’, she said ‘oh what a good idea’. Cambridge University in the 1960s was of course deeply unjust. There were three women’s colleges and 21 men’s colleges, so the women felt a deep sense of privilege, whereas the men felt it was their right to be there. They were the ones you wanted to punch in the face, but didn’t of course.
I thought about going to the bar, but hadn’t got a scholarship to one of the Inns of Court and hadn’t liked what I saw when I went to the interview, as people were being put off going to the Bar if they didn’t have money or connections. I spent my long vacations working in solicitors firms, I enjoyed that a lot. There was something about the atmosphere of the City, possibly being a country girl, that I didn’t quite like. So I thought about teaching law, and I went to Manchester, because they had famous professors who I had read as an undergraduate, and they wanted me to qualify as a barrister to do some practice at the bar. I was very lucky to be offered a pupillage in a good set of chambers, under a very senior junior barrister at the Manchester Bar, who I was told didn’t approve of women at the bar. I asked him why he didn’t approve, as his wife was a doctor, and he said ‘Ah, well, medicine is a caring profession and women should of course be carers, but the Bar is a fighting profession and women shouldn’t fight, what’s more, they don’t know how to because they are either too stubborn or too yielding.’ It was a fascinating conversation, because he clearly hadn’t met enough women or he wouldn’t think that, but he was right about what it took to be a good barrister.
I was the second women in the chambers that I joined, and I shall forever be grateful to the first, because she welcomed me with open arms, she didn’t put the others off me, whereas it has been known sometimes for the first woman not to want to be joined by any more. I was the second woman in the Court of Appeal, and again, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss didn’t pull up the drawbridge behind her at all.
I think there are as many differences between female judges as there are between male, however much they may on paper look to fit a stereotypical pattern. The male judges I have known have all been pretty different- they have all been public school boys and Oxbridge and have all been barristers, usually in London, but their characters, personalities, approaches to judging are all different. There are some cases where women may have a greater understanding of where people are coming from, but that’s true for men as well. But there are different perspectives, because like it or not, women lead different lives from men.
The JAC (Judicial Appointments Commission) is working really hard to break down traditional assumptions, which is hard because they want people to go straight into court rather than have a training programme. There are lots of reasons for wanting a more diverse judiciary, and of course we’re not just talking about gender, we’re talking about ethnicity, professional background, social economic background as well, all sorts of dimensions of diversity. But the number one reason is legitimacy, with the public. The courts should be much more reflective of the whole of society. Think of all those able women lawyers there are out there who’ve been qualifying in equal numbers to men for decades now, and we’re wasting all their talent by not recognising it and appointing them.
Amelia Bloomer, American women’s rights advocate, gave her name to the emancipatory bloomer style of clothing because of her prestige as a spokesperson for women. Her newspaper, The Lily, promoted a change in dress standards, arguing that ‘the costume of women’ should be ‘suited to her necessities’. in 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller, of New England, became the first to adopt the loose trouser ‘bloomer’ style. The rational dress reform movement of the Victorian period encouraged the adoption of practical clothing for women, raising awareness of the damaging effects of tight corseting which had been the mainstay of fashionable dress for women, and advocating more comfortable alternatives. It drew considerable derision and mockery from contemporary commentators.
The national suffrage amendment of 1920 and increasing career options for women led to a more profound shift in fashions, as masculine-inspired clothing was used to emphasise the more equal social status of women. Androgynous fashion, including sober suits, were emblematic of the ‘new woman’ and her independence.
And yet, the dress of women in the legal profession continued to attract close scrutiny for decades after their revolutionary career opportunities first came to the fore in the early twentieth century. The 2014 Bar Council report on the experience of self employed women at the bar interviewed female lawyers, and its findings demonstrate the continued focus on what women wear in the workplace. One barrister commented:
‘When I came to the Bar it was still considered risqué for a woman to wear trousers and that was only in the mid to late 90s’
This woman clearly felt a social pressure to dress in traditionally feminine clothing, and avoid the clearly controversial trousers. But the pressure was not merely social. Surprisingly recently, firms issued actual restrictions on women wearing trousers. As another female lawyer recalled:
‘When I was a lawyer before my recruitment career, it was announced at our firm that women could start wearing trouser suits, it wasn’t really that long ago either – about 1999 / 2000!’
In the past century, women have taken huge strides in their presence in the legal profession. It was perhaps the shock of this change which produced these attempts to keep the clothing of women traditional, whilst their behaviour became increasingly modern. Whilst firms did relax their restrictions on women wearing trousers, it was still suggested that women should dress in a feminine manner to improve their careers, e.g. to ingratiate themselves with judges and clients. Another quote from a woman interviewed by the Bar Council report reads:
‘I was told by my senior clerk that instead of wearing trouser suits I ought to wear shorter skirts’
The recent media uproar after the dress code controversy when a woman was obliged to wear high heels to work provides an opportunity to examine the role of clothing as an effective means of communication. For individuals whose voices are repressed, dress is a way to express oneself, a site of political importance and an opportunity to send a powerful message when words do not. Yet for many women, wearing trousers was primarily an act of practicality and functionality, particularly gaining ground when women had a more important role in the workplace. But at the same time, the association of trousers has continued to be with masculinity, and through wearing a traditionally masculine type of clothing, women demonstrated their irrevocable and insistent entrance into the male world of the public sphere.
Interesting article by Rashmi Chopra on the Hanne & Co website.
The recent campaign conducted by Ms Thorp, a receptionist at Price Waterhouse & Cooper (PwC), concerning the compulsory wearing of high heels at work raises issues concerning dress codes at work. Ms Thorp was sent home by her supervisor for not wearing high heels, which led to her seeking preliminary advice on this matter. She was told that the employers have the right to impose such requirements and as such she did not have any merit in pursuing litigation in a tribunal or a court. Upon receipt of this advice, she started a petition to change such practices in the workplace. The petition has thus far attracted 46,000 signatures, indicating the importance of getting clarity on the law. Please note that Ms Thorp was not employed directly by PwC but via an agency called Portico.
Dress codes evolve with time. The current stereotype image of a lawyer dress code can be observed by the media’s portrayal of women lawyers. A case in point being Ally McBeal’s (Calista Flockhart) role as a chic city lawyer, wearing a short skirt with a sharp jacket, in high heels, having cocktails with colleagues, and generally leading a glamorous lifestyle.
Prior to the 1980s, a woman lawyer was required to have a more sombre feminine image. Wearing trousers in court would have been unheard of. When a female barrister attending court in a trouser suit began to address the court, the judge said, “I can’t hear you, Miss…” She spoke louder. He repeated the phrase. She almost shouted. He repeated the phrase, perhaps adding, “I can’t hear you over your trousers.” Since the Lord Chancellor’s Practice Direction in 1995, women are now able to present themselves in trousers in court, thus extending the policy to make for more equitable treatment.
However, the outdated and prejudiced ideas continue to arise. Recently, the Telegraph’s Louisa Peacock’s experiences, reported on 29 May 2014, of being disallowed entry into a chic London restaurant, is another case in point. She was disallowed on the grounds that she was wearing trousers and as such she did not comply with the requirements of a “smart casual” dress code. Her observations were that men wearing similar type of clothes and women in skirts and high heels were being permitted entry. She subsequently complained to the court that the practice and policy was “sexist” treatment. The complaint was taken on board by the restaurant resulting in the doorman’s termination of employment.
Policies adopted by employers
The employers have stipulated requirements to portray a brand and/or corporate image, in many forms, ranging from:
• Wearing high heels;
• Wearing makeup for front line staff to portray the brand’s image;
• Not wearing low-cut tops and over exposure of the body;
• A more subtle approach is that if an employee wears bright colours that deviate from the ‘normal’ colours, the image of a man in a navy or grey suit, then their promotion prospects could potentially be damaged as they are not perceived as being ‘serious’.
In the face of expensive litigation, and despite the Eweida case being lost by her at the Tribunal, EAT and Court of Appeal on the basis that the policy did not result in-group disadvantage, British Airways reviewed its uniform policy to permit the visible wearing of the cross. The company allows religious items such as turbans, hijabs and bangles to be worn as staff cannot hide them beneath their uniforms. Ms Eweida argued that it amounted to religious discrimination.
Successive cases show that dress codes adversely affect more women than men, a gender specific group disadvantage. Sadly, such issues continue to arise as demonstrated by the female cabin crew at British Airways who succeeded in their conflict for the right to wear trousers as part of their uniform.
Portico (Supplying agent of staff), have a policy requirement, embraced by PwC, in relation to wearing high heels. Employers require their employees to sign the appearance guidelines. Simon Pratt, Portico, stated that such guidelines were “common practice within the service sector”. It is noted that Portico and PwC are currently in discussions about Portico’s policies.
To illustrate this concept, see the case of Schmidt v Austicks Bookshops Limited (1979 ICR 85). The EAT has held that a requirement for a female employee to wear a skirt and not trousers at work was unlawful sex discrimination because the employers in that case could not demonstrate an objective justifiable business reason for insisting on that particular rule. As long as there is consistency of approach to appearances for male and female employees, it may not amount to sex discrimination.
The policy of conventional dress codes can be imposed by an employer to ensure an acceptable public image as illustrated by the case of a public sector worker who challenged the employer’s policy to wear a collar and tie, Department for Work and Pensions v Thompson (EAT/0254/03). The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that an employee required by his employer to wear a shirt and tie at work had not been discriminated against on the grounds of his sex.
On the other hand in Smith v Safeway plc (The Times Law Report 5th March, 1996), although the code operated by Safeway meant that the particular detailed rules applicable to men and women employees were different, their overall effect was broadly the same, in that both men and women’s dress codes required conventionality in appearance. As long as there is consistency of approach to appearances for male and female employees, it may not amount to sex discrimination.
Guiding principles for direct discrimination
When deciding a case of direct discrimination, tribunals must consider:
• If the treatment complained of meant that A had been treated less favourably than B.
• If so, was the less favourable treatment of A on the ground of his or her sex.
• If so, had A thereby been subjected to a detriment.
Health and safety concerns of wearing high heels
“From the point of view of the foot high heels are a disaster,” said Tony Redmond, a biomechanics expert at Leeds University. “The joints of the feet can be damaged by wearing high heels, and this can cause some forms of arthritis.” Regularly wearing heels increases the mechanical wear and tear around the knee joints, which might increase the risk of osteoarthritis. It also puts people with weak lower backs at risk of slipped vertebrae.
The College of Podiatry has warned employers not to make women wear high heels at work because they can cause bunions, back problems, ankle sprains and tight calves. It has been worked out that it takes an average of one hour, six minutes and 48 seconds for them to start hurting.
Practical advice to employers
• To adopt a common sense approach taken with consultation with the employees on any issues that may arise;
• Carry out a risk assessment of the policy;
• Explain the purposes of requiring the specific conventional appearances that apply to both male and female employees, and as such does not cause a group disadvantage;
• Any policy must be objectively justifiable and the requirement appropriate for the role;
• Apply the policies even-handedly.
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Mary McAleese, the second woman ever elected as president of Ireland, discusses the structural prejudices which are holding back the new generation of women working in law. She identifies the pressures facing female lawyers and the ways to overcome them, as well as the crucical importance of female voices in public affairs.
At the recent Rosie Conversation hosted by WILL (Women in Law London), and Bristows, Mary McAleese discussed her experiences of working in the law with Jo Coburn and Baroness Butler-Sloss. The resulting conversation provided a fascinating insight into how she sees the future of the legal profession for women.
Positions of public office have historically been dominated by men, with the result that working environments can feel aggressively masculine. But Mary McAleese found herself conducting her presidency of Ireland in a ‘peculiarly mammyish’ way. She described how she always behaved as authentically as possible. In response to the criticism sometimes levied against women in power that they are ‘playing the woman card’ she retorted that it was the hand she was dealt. As president, her slogan was ‘building bridges’, a campaign to bridge an historic chasm in Ireland. Achieving this required a faith in talking and communicating as the only way of resolving the deep sectarian conflicts of her country. She therefore demonstrated that traditionally male dominated roles can be fulfilled with enormous success, and whilst challenging the status quo of getting things done
Her achievements as president show the great changes that can take place with a different approach. Listening to all sides of a dispute and creating an open dialogue were hallmarks of the unique stamp she put on her presidency, demonstrating how much can be done when previously unheard voices are included. When women are made present, visible, and valued in public spheres, they offer another side of the story and a wealth of different experiences. Their ideas make businesses work better, yet women constitute an increasing wasted pool of talent.
Women need to help eachother. The immense privilege of women working in the law in the UK is something Mary says is completely alien to the experience of the majority of women around the world. Given that three quarters of illiterate people are women, the women in the legal profession are living in the ‘landscape of possibility’, seeing the other side of the moon as far as advances in gender equality. McAleese, a devout Catholic has denounced the Catholic church’s refusal to allow women to be priests as just one aspect of the institutionalised sexism which denies women the support and encouragement to realize their potential. The injustice of such policies are thrown into sharp relief given that nuns, the foot soldiers of the church, do the vast majority of the charitable work and day-to-day running of affairs.
She proposes quotas as an essential tool for achieving female equality because they force the hand of organisations to actually elevate women to a position where they can be heard and seen. Quotas address the underlying prejudice holding women back, but it is not the only issue to be addressed. The lifestyle demanded of people who work in law is a major factor in why women are discouraged. Mary McAleese describes this as the problem that the new generation of lawyers must solve. She calls the hours demanded by many law firms a ‘crucifixion’, having seen first hand women sometimes working 13-hour days. The ingrained system of torturously long hours is not only damaging for women. Men also suffer from the ‘inhuman’ patterns of work, forcing their careers to consume their time at the expense of their families.
A more controversial topic that Mary addressed was the internalized misogyny of many women that holds gender equality back. She argued that the most repressed women are often discouraged from advancing themselves by their own mothers and grandmothers, a seemingly incomprehensible problem. The idea of senior women ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ behind them has been explained as due to the career insecurity that they feel. But a supportive female network for women in law is essential to advance and support their careers. The Bar Council, on the basis of interviews with self-employed female barristers, recommends the mentoring of junior women by more senior women as a way to encourage their confidence and make the profession more rewarding. Mary argued that some women need to be educated and sensitized in order to create a climate where women are helping eachother to achieve equality.
This week we heard the sad news that Frances Murphy – the former corporate head at Slaughter and May – has died after a long illness.
The firm’s senior partner Steve Cooke said: This is a very sad day. The news was received with great sorrow by everyone here. Frances was one of the most outstanding corporate lawyers in the City and made an exceptional contribution to the firm. She held the respect of the business community and had a huge reputation in the global legal market. We will really miss her. Our thoughts are with her family.”
Frances Murphy arrived at Slaughter and May in 1981, and was made partner in 1990. She went on to be corporate head in 2008.
The First 100 Years interviewed Frances in late 2015. The video can be found here. Always a champion of women in law, but equally always focusing on talent not gender, she spoke in detail about her incredible legal career in the heart of the City, going right back to student days in Sheffield.
As we mourn the death of one of Britain’s finest corporate lawyers, here are a few extracts that interview where Frances talks about becoming a lawyer, doing deals and family.
I decided to be a lawyer before I filled in my UCCA form. Part of that was wanting to have a profession, and wanting to be self-sufficient. If you looked at what was available to women, law seemed a good opportunity. So I filled in my UCCA form, and I had an offer from Sheffield, and it was far enough away from home, and I thought it would be fun! I met two of my closest friends on that first day, and they are still to this day some of my closest friends.
I knew I wanted to work in the City. I thought it sounded interesting, but I knew nothing about the City. I can remember turning up here in the very early days, and somebody talking to me about a bond issue, and me saying ‘what’s a bond issue?’ I had no background in business.
I’ve been very lucky at Slaughter and May, because we don’t narrow down people into little boxes. You can do a wide range of things. That makes it interesting, and makes you keep thinking, and learning, and that’s good for everybody. I have done a lot of deals over the years. None of them are solo events, they’re all done with teams of people, and you couldn’t do them by yourself, and anyone who thinks they could is foolish in my view. But two sets of deals I suppose really stand out.
The deals I did with the Williams Holdings, which were acquisition and disposal, after acquisition and disposal, and almost never ending for about fifteen years … they were fantastic experiences and all different. Some large, some small, some public, some private. So that whole series of deals with that team, it was a very close knit team there, was great, and I learnt a lot about business doing those deals, and how to negotiate which is a very important skill.
The other very important client to me since the Eighties, still is a client today, is Santander Abbey National as they were. I was lucky enough to work on the team that demutualised Abbey, and that was the first building society ever to go through the demutualising process. And of course there was no road map as to how to do it. We made it up as went along really – so that was a really interesting deal.
I like deals, I like solving a problem, I like, you know, reaching a negotiation on something. I like everyone to walk away feeling they’ve got a good deal at the end of the day. That’s also a part of the fun. There’s a huge sense of relief when the deal’s actually signed or closed, you know, you actually got it through.”
I think there is a lot of media talk about gender that is sometimes overdone. Not just in the law. I do think there’s quite a lot of froth. We’d obviously like to keep more women, because they’re fifty percent of our talent pool, we invest a lot of money in them when they come and train with us, and so if you were looking at it purely as a business decision, it just doesn’t make sense to say ‘well, we can afford to wave goodbye to the women’. So my question is how do you fix the system to make it work better for men and women who actually all want to have a real life as well as a professional life.
I think my life became much easier when I got married, because I had someone who was really supportive. He never saw childcare as my job, it was our job, and never saw my job as my job. If I needed him to come along to an event, or talk to a client, he’s been fantastic so choosing the right person to marry or settle down with is one of life’s most important decisions. Much more so than becoming a partner or anything else, you know.
The first female Irish president who proved that women could be ‘the hands that rocked the system’ as well as the ‘the hands that rocked the cradle’.
Mary Robinson’s views of the legal system were shaped by the optimism of the 1960s to use the law as an instrument of social change. As president of Ireland, who at one stage received 93% approval ratings, she advocated the legalisation of using contraceptives, removing the prohibition of divorce, the right of women to sit on juries, and for women to be able to continue work in the civil service after they married.
Aunt Ivy, her aunt, had innovated ‘spectacular’ things for girls education in India, which provided Mary with an inspirational role model. Ivy wrote her long letters about her work in Bombay and Bangalore, fuelling Mary with a desire to make a difference herself. Her great-aunt, a headmistress of several English schools, told stories of her arguments with the secretary of education, with a ‘great twinkle in her eye’. These influential female figures were icons to encourage Mary to realize her potential, whilst her father also supported and encouraged her to achieve.
Studying in Paris for a year, and doing a masters in law at Harvard changed everything for her. It opened her eyes to philosophy and feminism, intensifying the deep compulsion she felt to use the law to make a change. Having seen young people making a difference whilst abroad, she felt restless that in Ireland it was assumed that young people would wait their turn. Irish society was in many ways resistant to liberal change, meaning that Mary embarked on a ‘lonely path’ to change traditional assumptions about the role of women.
Spurred to action, she became a senator. She prioritised the legalization of family planning to encourage reproductive health, with the result that in 1970 Archbishop McQuaid proclaimed her a ‘curse upon our country’ in every church in his archdiocese. Mary found this challenging, being portrayed as ‘the devil incarnate’, yet it showed her that deep beliefs must come with the conviction to hold her ground strongly, and that criticism was unavoidable. Opening a dialogue on family planning, in her own words, ‘touched a raw nerve’. The prevailing prejudices against women occupying a public role in Ireland did not take long to materialize. A well-publicised outburst from Padraig Glynn mocked her for taking an interest in family matters only since she had become a mother. But Mary Robinson was interested in changing the lives of mothers throughout Ireland.
Women in the professions, journalists and lawyers, had a certain authority and a platform to articulate themselves, which was not available to women absent from the workplace. Mary consistently encouraged women with access to power to reach out and engage with women at grassroots level to collaborate and innovate a better working environment.
Men, Mary argues, also have a crucial role in creating a more female-friendly workplace. They need to write more about work-life balance, and take on homemaking and child rearing roles. She is frank about her own struggle to find a balance, particularly when women in power inherit male environments, with male hours of work and male ways of doing things. In her experience, women in leadership roles have a more participatory style, working in a more collaborative and nurturing way.
She received the Medal of Freedom in 2010 from President Obama and is one of the youngest members of the Elders, an exclusive world body that lends its wisdom to various global challenges.
‘A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation.’
(Beginning of the Sexual Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919)
In her 1938 essay ‘Three Guineas’, Virginia Woolf refers deferentially to 1919 as ‘the sacred year’, heralding the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act as a pivotal moment for the emancipation of women. Vera Brittain wrote with excitement in 1920 that she would get her degree from Oxford and graduate with a mortarboard and gown; the ‘visible signs of a profound revolution’.
So why has this momentous piece of legislation also been called ‘a broken reed’ and a ‘dead letter’? The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was absolutely a compromise, introduced to temper the more radical Women’s Emancipation Act, which had clauses to establish equal franchise and the introduction of peeresses to the House of Lords. By comparison, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act came with considerable restraints, most of all in the employment of women in senior positions in civil service. However, these limitations should not cloud that this piece of legislation brought previously unheard of opportunities for women to have exciting, dynamic, and fulfilling careers. As Virginia Woolf said, the doors to the public world were now flung open to women.
Millicent Fawcett wrote that 1919 was ‘not a bad harvest…when we remember the twelve years work necessary to get the Midwives Bill 1902’. There was great positivity about the future for women who could now serve on juries, work as magistrates, in universities, and in the legal profession. The fact that 1919 also saw the election of Nancy Astor, first female MP, and the equal treatment of women in the new League of Nations, indicates that it was a great leap for women in achieving equality. The successes of the bill are even more striking given the political, economic, and intellectual climate, which was unfavourable to total emancipation of women.
There was significant support in parliament for allowing women to practice in the legal profession; indeed it was the least controversial part of the failed Women Emancipation’s Bill, and the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. Bertrand Watson said that he had never seen a good or valid reason why women should not practice as solicitors or as members of the Bar. Women were felt to have proved themselves during the First World War, and in particular it was thought that they would be specially qualified to benefit the new children’s courts.
Many concerns existed about the participation of women on juries. They could still be excluded if they were considered too sensitive, and it was considered unsuitable to have mixed-sex juries for cases dealing with commercial disputes, because women had insufficient commercial experience. Opposition to women serving on juries was even made on the basis that there was a lack of lavatory accommodation for them. However, increasing pressure meant that rules for how women jurors would be selected were eventually drafted. Helena Normanton, who later became the second female barrister in England, wrote in a note that there was a clamouring for the procedure to be implemented. The path to mixed-sex juries was, however, tediously slow; the courts still had a discretionary right to exclude women from juries until 1972.
The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act failed to achieve equal franchise and also did little to remedy the obstacles facing married women working in the professions. The 1919 law was very significant for the lives of women, but there was still a long way to go towards full emancipation. Many more parliamentary acts were necessary to create a more equal reality for women in Britain, but this was a crucial step.
By Alice Ackernley (née Gutteridge)
Scene: Christmas Day, 1980
Me (aged 5): [throws ball narrowly missing Christmas tree]
My mother: “Alice, don’t throw balls in the house!”
Me: “But I didn’t throw the ball, I bowled it.”
Auntie Joyce: “One day Alice, you will be a lawyer…”
Fast forward to 2019. Me, mother of two, in-house lawyer. Christmas ’80 a distant memory, a family anecdote. Growing up I would say I didn’t want to go into the law – but it was actually always in the back of my mind, thanks to Auntie Joyce.
As a child, she was my wonderful great aunt who took my brother and me to the pantomime, let me play with her amazing collection of dolls gathered from all over the world. I would pore over her notes of those travels (which we still have) thinking “One day…”, but little did I know at the time what those notes really meant.
For whilst Joyce was ‘Auntie Joyce’ to me, she was to most other people Joyce Gutteridge CBE, leading international lawyer. The most senior woman member of the Foreign Service. A global authority on the Law of the Sea and the powers of the United Nations, and a pioneer in the newly emerging law of the Outer Space.
Joyce studied at Oxford and was then called to the Bar, but it was during the Second World War she came to the notice of Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, then head of the legal department at the Foreign Office. She was invited to work there on a temporary basis, but her warm personality and intellectual ability soon established her as a permanent member of the team and she became the Foreign Office’s first ever female legal adviser. What followed was a CV that most of us can only dream of.
To name but a few of her key roles, she helped to draw up the Geneva Convention (Red Cross) 1949. At short notice, she was asked to advise on the Torrey Canyon Oil disaster. She spent a lot of time in Iceland during the Cod Wars. In 1958, she was the UK’s representative on the Continental Shelf Committee of the Law of the Sea conference. There was also a four year spell in the sixties in New York where she was Legal Counsellor to the UK mission to the UN. Kennedy was in power and he was determined to land the first man on the moon. This kindled her interest in outer space and she visited Cape Canaveral and met the astronauts who were later to achieve their President’s objective. She also represented the UK both on the UN’s Outer Space Committee to New York and the Outer Space Legal Sub-Committee held in Geneva in 1962, and became affectionately known as “Our Lady in Outer Space”!
I would marvel at the photos of her at these delegations, the only woman, a sign in front of her saying “United Kingdom”, sat between her US and Russian counterparts. Even now, they still amaze and fascinate me, and I am so proud of what she achieved. Not only was she awarded a CBE in 1964, she also received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Westerness College for Women, Oxford, Ohio, in 1963.
Sadly Joyce passed away whilst I was at university. As a student, I always thought I would follow my love of the arts, wine and travel when I graduated. But I had a niggle that a career in the law beckoned, and this was probably heightened when Joyce died. I decided to apply for a training contract at a city law firm, to see where I’d get to – and I got the job! At that point, I started to believe that maybe law – and Auntie Joyce – was part of my make-up. A couple of years later, when researching in the law school library for a dissertation that I was writing on my chosen subject, I came across an essay Auntie Joyce had written on the exact same topic many years before. It was as if it was meant to be.
Before I started my training contract, I took some time out to travel and worked as a paralegal in leading Hong Kong and Australian law firms. Working in the city, I also spent time on secondment, in Paris, Rotterdam, Madrid and Munich amongst other places. Now I am in Yorkshire, married with children, and feel very lucky to have a great in-house role, working for a fantastic company. Joyce not only inspired me to go into the law, but she also paved the way for me and thousands of other female lawyers to have diverse and fulfilling careers too. I can’t begin to imagine what barriers she will have had to cross, and I am both in awe and deeply grateful.
There are other women in law who have inspired me too: my mother, a magistrate for nearly 40 years, and my former bosses at the city law firm where I trained, and the investment bank where I worked after that, as well as many other colleagues, friends and clients along the way. They have guided me, advised me, challenged me and made me laugh, and I am very fortunate to have had the privilege of knowing them and working with them over the years. But it was Auntie Joyce’s warmth, kindness, humour, intellect and of course unrivalled stories of foreign travel and insight that sowed that very first seed on Christmas Day 1980. My desire for travel, learning new things, challenging myself, problem solving… a career in the law. Perhaps not just an anecdote after all.
It is fairly well known that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 abolished the previous bar on women serving as lawyers, judges or magistrates. What is less well known is that the 1919 Act also removed other bars to women’s formal inclusion in public life. It opened up much of the civil service to women, for example, and also made them liable to serve as jurors. There had actually been a role for women on juries since the thirteenth century, when special juries of ‘matrons’ were first recorded. This special class of jury was asked to discover whether a woman found guilty of a capital crime was currently pregnant (and so should not be executed for the time being). Such juries were rare by the end of the nineteenth century, however, and had become obsolete by the 1930s.
What was different about the 1919 reform was that it enabled women to serve, for the first time, on the grand and trial juries which actually determined whether an accused person was guilty. Previously, women serving on ‘juries’ had been restricted to post-verdict fact-finding of a specialist, feminine nature. ‘Is this woman pregnant?’ Not ‘Is this person guilty?’
The appearance of women as trial jurors was one of several major reforms in women’s formal civic presence in the early twentieth century, and like the other reforms it was closely scrutinised in the press. Newspapers chronicled the first female jurors with much interest, telling us for example that several women were summoned to Colchester Quarter Sessions as early as April 1920, although no women seem to have actually served on a jury until the Bristol Quarter Sessions in July of that year; and that the Old Bailey’s first jurors served in January the following year.
Articles charting the novelty of female jurors quickly turned to critique, however. As early as September 1920, the Derby Evening Telegraph complained that men would be only too happy to cede the burden of jury service to women, if only female jurors could be trusted to endure the gruesome business. Discussing a recent Manchester trial for malicious wounding, in which a female juror had fainted, and been replaced by another woman before the trial was restarted, the paper complained that all men ‘want to avoid is having to perform the work twice over because a lady member chances to fall out in the middle of a case’.
This was a fairly common complaint: that women lacked either the constitution or the intellect required to serve as jurors, frequently succumbing to their emotions either by fainting or by voting for an improper verdict. When Alfred Hitchcock turned Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue into a silent film in 1928, almost a decade after the first female jurors had been empanelled, he began his picture with a critique of the female juror. In scenes with little direct connection to Coward’s 1926 play, Hitchcock added a High Court divorce proceeding to the story, and addressed a notable limitation of silent film-making by showing us the notes taken by a female juror while she heard evidence, such as her emotional observation that ‘Pity is akin to love’. In the jury’s subsequent deliberations, a male juror argues ‘The attractive wife of a drunken husband – alone all day with another man who loved her – the evidence seems conclusive to me.’ The woman whose notes we have already seen adds ‘And remember, the co-respondent had left all his money to Mrs Filton – another man’s wife!’ The jury convicts, and something approaching Coward’s play then begins.
When Hitchcock’s film was released, the Bucks Herald called it ‘The story of a beautiful woman, who suffered because she was beautiful, having the misfortune to appear in the Divorce Court before women jurors less attractive than herself’, while the Bury Free Press noted ‘the women jurors were careful to see that the innocent woman did not escape!’, and the Northern Whig said the film ‘shatters the claim that women are sufficiently fair to be trusted in Divorce Court proceedings’.
When newspapers asked women to describe their recent experiences as jurors, they usually reported having found the experience more interesting, and less complex, than they had expected. Female jurors were rarely asked their thoughts about specific trials they had served on, however, unless their trials were particularly brutal or shocking. Their responses to these more specific questions may have helped maintain the public perception that women found jury service difficult, and should therefore be spared the burden.
Little is known about how many women actually served on juries in the years immediately following the 1919 Act, or whether they were concentrated in particular types of case (where they were routinely kept off trials for homicide or sexual offences, for example?). What is known is that until the 1970s jurors had to satisfy a property qualification, and that few women were therefore qualified. It is also known that Lord Reading insisted a power be inserted into the Act allowing judges to order single-sex juries ‘by reason of the nature of the evidence to be given or of the issues to be tried’, and that counsel retained their power to ‘peremptorily challenge’ jurors, removing them from a particular jury without having to give reasons for their challenge. So while we know a lot about the law regarding female jurors, as well as having good evidence of how the media viewed them, little is known about the earliest female jurors themselves.
Kay Crosby is a lecturer in law at Newcastle University. She is currently working on a project, funded by the British Academy and Newcastle University, exploring the use of female jurors in 1920s England
In 2004 Dame Linda Dobbs became the first black person appointed as judge of the High Court, commenting that she was confident that she was the first of many to come. In this iconic interview she describes her experiences of the legal world throughout her career.
This short video captures the essence of the First 100 Years Project, featuring some of the trailblazing women who are being celebrated on the groundbreaking digital platform.
First 100 Years organised a flagship event, the SPARK21 on 2nd November 2015, with confirmed keynote speaker Professor Dame Carol Black, and chair of the day Dame Jenni Murray from Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
First 100 Years is a ground-breaking research project launched by Obelisk Support in partnership with the Law Society and the Bar Council which is charting the journey of women in the legal profession since 1919, when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.
This one-day conference was hosted by Simmons & Simmons at CityPoint, with a series of panel debates chaired by Dame Jenni Murray. The keynote speaker is Professor Dame Carol Black.
Just over half of associates were female and one in 10 were from an ethnic minority background.
‘Some’ encouragement could be taken from the fact 25.3% of partners were female, based on this year’s sample of firms; 6.1% were of ethnic minority descent. The proportion of associates who were female rose to 56.5%; 13.4% were from an ethnic minority background.
This year 36 law firms and 20 barristers chambers took part in the survey, compared with 41 firms and 16 chambers last year.
Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption cautioned recently that a rush for equal representation of women at the top of the legal profession could have “appalling consequences for the quality of justice”. Really? In truth, our justice system is suffering from a democracy deficit because we need lawyers and judges who meaningfully reflect the public – rather than a narrow and privileged group disproportionately skewed to one gender, one class and one ethnicity. Countries in the Council of Europe have judiciaries with an average of 52 per cent men and 48 per cent women. Why don’t we? There is no justice in an institutionally sexist legal system, which discriminates structurally and culturally against women – and we shouldn’t be afraid to demand equality.
Bilkis Mahmood, Senior Partner at Blackstone Law, qualified in 2003. But it was a difficult beginning for Ms Mahmood who, although had ambitions of becoming a lawyer at the age of 16, after completing her A-levels decided to get married.
Chakrabarti was born to Hindu-Bengali parents in the suburb of Kenton in the London Borough of Harrow. Her father, a bookkeeper, has been cited by Chakrabarti as an influence on her gaining an interest in civil liberties. She attended Bentley Wood High School, a girls’ comprehensive school, then Harrow Weald Sixth Form College. Chakrabarti was an active member of the Social Democratic Party from 1985 to 1987.
She studied Law at the London School of Economics, at one point acting as a research assistant to Leonard Leigh who wrote a paper on the British approach to terrorism and extradition; the paper was published in early 1997. After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws, Chakrabarti was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1994. In 1996, she started working as a barrister for the Home Office.
Denise McBride QC and Siobhan Keegan QC were sworn into office on Friday.
They are the first women to be appointed to the position since the High Court was established in 1921.
Their appointments have been welcomed by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, who established the Women in Law group in 2012.
The barrister who accused a male solicitor of sexism after he described her photograph as ‘stunning’ said she had received ‘many sexist comments’ in her career as a barrister.
Charlotte Proudman, 27, made headlines last month when she claimed Alexander Carter-Silk had ‘objectified her’ with the message he sent on the networking site LinkedIn.
Dr Mari Takayanagi writes for the First 100 Years project about some links between the women’s suffrage movement and the campaign by women to enter the legal profession.
As the film ‘Suffragette’ comes to a cinema near you, be aware that the First 100 Years of women lawyers that we will be celebrating in 2019 will be preceded with the first 100 years of the vote in 2018. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the Parliamentary franchise to all men and some women for the first time. Women had to be over the age of 30 and meet minimum property qualifications to vote: they had to wait until the Equal Franchise Act 1928 before they got the vote on the same terms as men.
Women who campaigned for the vote wanted it for a wide variety of reasons, in order to help change law and change society. Inequalities in the law that women wished to address included laws on divorce, marriage, property, guardianship of children, age of consent and marriage, widows and orphans pensions, regulation of midwifery and nursing, and much more.
One of the issues for suffrage campaigners was enabling women to enter professions, including the legal profession; the only profession with significant numbers of women before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was medicine. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that suffrage campaigners included a number of women who had trained in law but were unable to practice, or wished to enter the legal profession.
Perhaps the most famous of these women is Christabel Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the militant Women’s Social & Political Union, who graduated with a first class law degree from the University of Manchester in 1906. Her father, Richard Pankhurst, was also a lawyer who helped draft some of the earliest women’s suffrage bills in the 1870s. Despite being unable to practice, Christabel famously represented herself, her mother Emmeline, and fellow suffragette Flora Drummond in a court case in 1909. The three women were charged with inciting a ‘Rush’ on Parliament in 1908, and Christabel caused a sensation by serving subpoenas on David Lloyd George and Herbert Gladstone, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary. Despite her efforts, the women were found guilty and sent to prison.
Another suffrage campaigner was Chrystal Macmillan, an active member of the peaceful National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, who went on to become one of the earliest women lawyers after 1919. In November 1908, in the midst of the suffrage campaign and after women had been banned from Central Lobby in Parliament because there were so many suffragette protests there, Chrystal famously became the first woman to address the House of Lords. She was one of five female graduates of the University of Edinburgh, the others being Margaret Nairn, Elsie Inglis, Frances Simson and Frances Melville, who argued they should be able to vote in elections to the university seat on the basis that the word ‘persons’ included women. They brought their case all the way to the House of Lords, where Chrystal argued their case from the bar of the House. The case was lost but achieved much publicity.
Other women who campaigned both on suffrage and on female lawyers include Eliza Orme and Helena Normanton. As well as being a Champion for the First 100 Years Project, I am delighted to be joint project manager and co-curator for Vote 100, a project to mark 100 years of the vote for all men and some women in Parliament in 2018. There are clearly lots of synergies between the two anniversaries.
You can read my review of the ‘Suffragette’ film on the Vote 100 blog.
First 100 Years is launching a campaign to fund the filming of 100 individual stories of leading women in law as it looks to build the UK’s first digital museum dedicated to the journey of women in the legal profession. This is a ground-breaking project that has the support of all corners of the profession.
This month saw the launch of the First 100 Years’ In Conversation series, which brings together two leading lawyers from across the profession to talk about the key issues surrounding women in law. Our first event posed the question ‘How Can Innovation and Diversity Shape the Legal Profession’.
We were treated to a thought provoking, inspiring and informative conversation with Rosemary Martin, General Counsel at Vodafone, and former Simmons & Simmons senior partner Dame Janet Gaymer. The event was chaired by Catherine Baksi, former barrister and journalist.
Equal numbers of female judges could inflict “appalling consequences” on the quality of British justice, warns a Supreme Court judge.
Lord Sumption said he believed the judiciary was a “terrific public asset” which could be “destroyed very easily” if the selection of candidates was skewed in favour of women.
Younger women are especially prone to sexist comments from men whose attitudes worsen as they rise through the ranks from junior barrister to judges. One senior practitioner shared her experience of sexual harassment as a pupil, from her pupil supervisor, after she arrived at work following a weekend haircut.
She said: “My supervisor said you look quite f*ck-able with your hair like that… He also once said, put your jacket on, I am only human… and… remind me are you a stockings or tights girl?”
My husband and I had dinner with friends recently. The three other ladies there were mothers who had taken 10- to 15-year breaks from their careers to bring up their children. Nothing particularly unusual to this story perhaps. What is interesting, however, is that all three are keen to re-enter the world of work, but none of these highly qualified, experienced professionals are sure how to go about it.
Many of my friends are in similar situations, having followed a familiar track: university, graduate position, climb career ladder, have first child and return to work part-time, have second child and ‘retire’. Admittedly they have been in the fortunate position to have partners whose own career success has allowed them to make the choice to stay at home.
The First 100 Years project was born out of a great need to highlight the certain invisibility and struggles that women in Law – and indeed across a myriad of professions – have faced.
Since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, when women were permitted to join professions for the first time, pioneering women have paved the way for future generations to strive, challenge and succeed in the same way that their male counterparts have always enjoyed.
SPARK21, our inaugural conference, has been established to not only celebrate the centenary of the 1919 Act in 2019, but to spark a 21st century debate on how far awe have come, and how far we have to go.
The day-long conference is being chaired by Dame Jenni Murray of BBC Woman’s Hour, with confirmed guestnote speaker Dame Stephanie Shirley.
Dame Stephanie Shirley (DBE), a successful IT entrepreneur turned philanthropist, founded a pioneering all-women software company in the UK in the 1960s. It was ultimately valued at $3 billion and made millionaires of 70 of her team. Since retiring in 1993, her focus has been increasingly on philanthropy, concentrating on IT and her late son’s disorder of autism:
Three things are needed to attract more women into the legal profession. Role models to inspire; sharing of best practices as to what is the most effective enabler for women in law; and women’s self-belief to underpin their confidence. Obelisk’s progress to-date and this important project ensures the next 100 years will be equally innovative.
Dame Stephanie Shirley; millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, is a confirmed keynote speaker at SPARK21
Dame Jenni Murray (DBE, OBE), best known for presenting Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour since 1987, received an OBE in 1999 for services to radio broadcasting, and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2011. A feminist with an unabashed approach to difficult subject matter, Murray is a published author and patron of several charities including the Breast Cancer Campaign and Family Planning Association. She is also vice-president of Parkinson’s UK.
Hosted by Simmons & Simmons, 2nd November will see prominent figures in the world of Law and beyond coming together to honour the legacy of forerunning women and inspire the next generation on their career journeys:
The First 100 Years project is a fantastic initiative which we are very excited and proud to be part of. It is a great opportunity to highlight the history of women in law for those in the legal profession and for the general public. The project will allow us to celebrate the achievements of many highly successful and leading women who have paved the way for so many other women in Law over the last 100 years. Hopefully, they will be able to act as inspiration and role models for even more women as a result of this project.
2019 marks the 100 year anniversary of women being allowed to enter into the legal profession in the UK. Since becoming involved with this project, we have learned so much about the history of women in the law, much of which has been both surprising and inspirational. Having an understanding of the history in this area provides context for the way we work today and is important when trying to improve the future. Whilst so much has been achieved in terms of increasing gender diversity in law, there is still much work to be done and no one solution.
We are particularly excited about hosting the first annual First 100 Years conference at our offices. We see this as a great way of spreading the word about this fantastic, important project and bringing together interested people from across the legal industry – solicitors, barristers, academics, students etc. We are very much looking forward to 2nd November!
Dame Jenni Murray is chair of SPARK21 Photo credit: Charlie Forgham-Bailey
Dame Jenni Murray is chair of SPARK21 Photo credit: Charlie Forgham-Bailey
SPARK21 is also CPD-approved. Continuing Professional Development is a term used to describe the commitment to lifelong learning; a skill that is invaluable to all people across every segment of society.
Dana Denis-Smith, Obelisk’s CEO and founder, said:
It’s rare for 21st Century lawyers to have the chance to get together as a profession to reflect on and learn from our past. That’s why SPARK21 is such an important and incredibly exciting conference. As we approach the end of the first 100 years of women in Law the time is now to gather the stories and the insights from our past, so we can start to shape a more positive future for women in Law. SPARK21 and the crowdfunding campaign are a great way for law firms to get involved with the First 100 Years and the relevant debates we are sparking as this centenary approaches.
The conference will run all day from 9:30-5:30pm, followed by a reception until 7:30pm.
You can reserve your place here.
We hope to see you there, for an unforgettable day!
First 100 Years Team
Guest post by Alice Tyson
Lady Barbara (“Bill”) Littlewood (1909-1995) may not be a familiar name to many, but her contributions to women in the legal profession should not be overlooked. She spent her long career at a firm of “country solicitors” (as they were known). Alongside this, she held an impressive list of achievements and acted as an advocate for women in the legal profession.
Lady Littlewood studied mathematics, physics and psychology at King’s College London. She was admitted to the roll of solicitors in March 1936 just one month after the birth of her son. In 1942 she was made partner of the firm where she served her articles, Barlow, Norris and Jenkins, in Guildford.
Lady Littlewood also served as a magistrate in Middlesex from 1950, chairwoman of the 1919 club 1949-51 (now the Women Lawyers Division), president of the West Surrey Law Society 1952-53, president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women 1965-68, and first female chair of the Solicitors Benevolent Association in 1979. Her commitment to the profession was remarkable, but also noteworthy is her attitude towards combining an active professional life with motherhood – something which is still a struggle for many women.
Lady Littlewood’s legal career was just beginning when her son was born. The family employed a nanny for the first six years, and this undoubtedly assisted her in pursuing her legal ambitions. Working life was perhaps easier for Lady Littlewood than it was for some of her contemporaries, as her husband, Sir Sydney Littlewood, supported her career choice. Indeed, in 1958 she asserted that her husband had encouraged her to enter the profession. This is not a stance that all women in the period could rely on their husbands to take. It is lucky that Sir Sydney was the supportive type, or he may have felt his own achievements were sometimes overshadowed by his wife’s prominence in the profession. As an example, when Sir Sydney was inaugurated as president of the Law Society in 1959, the Law Society Gazette proclaimed him to be the first president who was the husband of a solicitor.
It is clear that Lady Littlewood felt that there was more to being a woman than motherhood and the home. Whilst she had successfully combined home and work life, she wanted to inspire another generation to do the same. In 1965 she said, “I try to encourage girls to do their training and be qualified before they get married so that after looking after young children they can come back for a refresher course and take up careers”. In a time when many women were forced or pressured into giving up their careers upon marriage, Lady Littlewood took a different view on the matter. She felt that the broadened horizons of the woman who has interests outside of the home would make her a “more interesting” wife and mother. And what of those women who had not trained and qualified before marriage and children? During her time as President of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, the organisation sought to educate public opinion, encouraging training facilities for “older women” to enable them to go back to work.
It was not only to make themselves more interesting to their husbands that Lady Littlewood encouraged women to develop their careers. She was a true believer in equality and the responsibilities it entailed. In 1958, her expertise in matrimonial law led to her sitting on the Home Office Departmental Committee on matrimonial proceedings in Magistrates’ Courts. The resulting act, the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates Courts) Act, 1960, made it possible for the court to order a wife to make payments to her husband in the event that he was unable to provide for himself due to age, illness or disability. In 1966, she told a group of 700 Canadian women that, if they divorced, they should be responsible for paying alimony to their ex-husband if he was unable to support himself. This suggestion was not well received, eliciting groans from the audience.
Lady Littlewood propounded equality for women, not just in law, but across political and professional life. Her aspirations for women are encapsulated in the following statement; “I look forward to the time when it is not news when women get to the top, to the time when we expect it.”
The First 100 Years project is celebrating the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which enabled women to become barristers, solicitors, jurors and magistrates.
It’s not well known, however, that the Act might never have been passed at all if it hadn’t been prompted by a more radical private members’ bill. The government of the day, David Lloyd George’s Conservative dominated coalition, included a commitment to equality in its manifesto for the December 1918 general election. However the opposition Labour party boldly proclaimed, ‘the Labour Party is the Women’s Party,’ in its manifesto, and promptly used their second place in the private members’ bill ballot to introduce their own bill, the Women’s Emancipation Bill, early in 1919.
The Women’s Emancipation Bill was much more radical than the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was to be. As well as allowing women into the professions, it would have given votes for women on the same terms as men (women had to be aged 30 and meet minimum property qualifications to be able to vote at this time) and enabled women to sit in the House of Lords. The Women’s Emancipation Bill passed successfully through the House of Commons, against whipped government opposition at third reading – a remarkable achievement for a private members’ bill.
However the government then decided to kill the Women’s Emancipation bill by introducing its own bill, which became the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. Women were allowed into the professions, but ‘Proviso A’ enabled restrictions to be made on the admission of women to the civil service. Women were consequently barred from the foreign and diplomatic service until 1946. Women were allowed to sit on juries, but ‘Proviso B’ permitted judges to have single sex juries by reason of the nature of evidence or issues. This meant that women jurors were widely excluded from cases such as sexual assault or rape, the very cases where a woman’s point of view may have been most valuable; this continued until 1972.
Additionally, equal franchise was not included in the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, and women had to wait until 1928 to vote on the same terms as men. The House of Lords deleted the clause on allowing women to sit there, and consequently women were not allowed to sit in the Lords until 1958 as life peers, and 1963 as hereditary peers – facts which seem incredible to many people today.
These shortcomings, and others including the failure of the Act to end the marriage bar, meant that many historians have judged its significance harshly. However, I think analysis of the passage of the Act shows that it was passed by MPs in a positive spirit, and was actually a major achievement for the time. The First World War had barely ended, there was civil war in Ireland, returning soldiers and economic problems. Women had been given the vote at age 30 just one year before, and Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit in the Commons only late in 1919. It was amazing the Act was passed this year at all.
And the Act was a big step forward in many ways. It allowed women such as Helena Normanton to enter the legal profession, and women including Gertrude Tuckwell to become magistrates. It also enabled women to enter other professions, such as chartered accountancy, veterinary medicine, and the higher ranks of parts of the civil service for the first time. It permitted universities to award women degrees, and Oxford chose to do so the following year, although Cambridge did not follow suit until 1948. All these were concrete improvements which widened employment opportunities for many women, and should be celebrated today.
Written by First 100 Years Champion Dr Mari Takayanagi.
Photo credit: Original Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1919/9&10G5c71
In December 1922 Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales. At the age of 34, and with a varied career behind her, Carrie set a high standard of determination and dedication to her profession for the women who came after her.
Although three other women (Maud Crofts, Mary Elizabeth Pickup and Mary Elaine Sykes) passed their Law Society Finals examination at the same time as Carrie, she was the first to be admitted simply because her articles had expired first. The traditional 5 year period in articles to be served before qualification was shortened to 3 years for all 4 women because of their university degrees. In Carrie’s case this was a First Class Honours degree in Mediaeval and Modern Languages; her articles were shortened by a further year because of the “important war work” in which she was engaged in Constantinople at the end of the First World War. The ten years between her time at Girton College, Cambridge, and entering into articles with a well-known solicitor’s firm in The Strand in London were spent variously as a teacher, in the Military Permit Office of MI5, the Ministry of Munitions and in Constantinople with the Army of the Black Sea.
Law for her was not simply a way of making money. In the years immediately after qualification she spent much of her time working as a Poor Man’s Lawyer in the East End of London. In 1929, she married Ambrose Appelbe, a fellow solicitor, and for a time they lived in Booth House, a tenement building in Whitechapel with communal WCs and cold running water, a very far cry from the comfortable upbringing provided by her father, a wealthy metal broker. Throughout her legal career she was not afraid to stand up for those less fortunate than herself. She represented prostitutes in court, was the solicitor for the Women and Children’s’ Protection Society and defended the Becontree Estate protesters in 1932. She was also a strong advocate of Divorce Law Reform, but had a remarkably equitable attitude to the relative positions of men and women. She was just as apt to criticise wives who took advantage of their husbands as to castigate men who treated their wives harshly and in her office tried to shield her 17 year old male articled clerk from the details of the more brutal and salacious cases that she dealt with.
It was inevitable that she and Helena Normanton would attract attention for being the first woman solicitor and woman barrister respectively. The Daily Telegraph of 26 May 1928 reported that “At the conclusion of an undefended divorce suit Lord Meredith, granting a decree nisi, said it was the first time in his memory that a woman petitioner under the Poor Person’s Rules had had the advantage of a lady solicitor. The solicitor was Miss Carrie Morrison of Mile End Road, London, who was admitted in 1922”. She was the first woman to speak at the Law Society’s Annual Provincial Meeting where in 1931 she advocated the institution of “Courts of Domestic Relations” to deal with matrimonial difficulties and family quarrels but with power to grant divorces. Even after she divorced her husband in 1937 she continued to work with him in the practice that that they had built up in New Square near the Royal Courts of Justice. The two solicitors had a similar political vision and a shared purpose, which was to make the process of divorce more reasonable and the result more equitable to both parties, for the law at that time required that the process should be adversarial, that there should be an identifiable guilty party and that any suspicion of collusion should result in the suit being thrown out of court. Both were therefore involved in the Married Women’s Association and her husband became for a short time the Chairman of that organisation.
Carrie acted as the solicitor for the wife in the notorious 1943 case of Blackwell v Blackwell  2 All ER 579 where the court decided that the money that a wife had accrued as dividends by doing her shopping at the Co-operative Society should belong to her husband. Robert Boothby MP said that this was the correct judgment stating that if wives were permitted to save money from the housekeeping for their own purposes they would not feed their husbands properly.
The national press had noted her varied career and her dark hair and dark eyes when she became the first woman to qualify in 1922; on her death in 1950, after a career of dedication to improving the lot of the less comfortably off members of society the press knew so little about her legal career that they spent almost as much time writing about her cats as about her achievements. It was left to The Hertfordshire Mercury, the local newspaper of Broxbourne, where she had lived for the last fifteen years of her life, to praise the generosity and compassion of a complex and at times gruff and eccentric woman. True recognition came from her peers in the 1919 Club for women solicitors, of which she was a founder member, who kept a minute’s silence when her death was announced.
Written by Elizabeth Cruickshank, author and Champion of First 100 years
Photo credit: Court of Justice of the European Union
Interview by Alison Maitland
Eleanor Sharpston QC, the first woman appointed by the UK as Advocate General to the European Court of Justice, is one of the most distinguished contemporary lawyers. Yet her struggle to become a barrister was so difficult that she would have given up if she were, in her own words, “less impossibly stubborn”.
Eleanor, known as “Leo” to her friends, obtained a first-class degree in economics at King’s College, Cambridge, before deciding she wanted to be a barrister in European law.
She faced great obstacles, both financial and social, in establishing herself. “When I went to the Bar, women were tolerated but not encouraged,” she recalls. “It was assumed that they would (only) do family law – ‘so nice for the client to have a sympathetic female shoulder on which to cry’ – or the minor end of criminal law. The idea that a girl would want to do something that required pure intellectual reasoning power, like European Community law, was Martian. When I explained at pupillage interviews that this was what I hoped to do, the usual response was a bemused smile and a quick change of topic.”
She was able to get to the Bar only because she won two major scholarships from Middle Temple, her Inn of Court. One of these, the Sir Peter Bristow scholarship, was the only EC law scholarship at the Bar at that time. She also worked as a freelance motorcycle courier during her pupillage “to deal with the occasional cash flow crisis”.
Astonishingly, it took 10 years from her call to the Bar in 1980 to obtain a full tenancy in London chambers doing EU law. During that time, she worked in a solicitor’s office in Brussels, then in Jeremy Lever QC’s Brussels chambers, then as a “door tenant” (a barrister given permission to work with a set of chambers but from premises outside) in London. “All of this was totally precarious,” she points out.
Just as things were coming unstuck financially, she heard through the grapevine that some posts for law clerks were being created at the European Court of Justice. “I had about 48 hours before the news became public. After a quick trip back to the UK for a conference with my solicitor in my one remaining case, I leapt onto my 250cc motorbike and drove from London to Luxembourg so that I could ‘accidentally’ drop in to see Sir Gordon Slynn, the then British Advocate General at the ECJ, and ask him for the job. Cheek paid off, and professional and financial meltdown were avoided.”
She worked for him for three years, and finally got her London tenancy after briefing some visiting barristers on EU law and the ECJ’s procedure. Unbeknown to her, they were scouting for an EU lawyer, and the briefing session was effectively a tenancy interview.
As a woman, Eleanor says she has managed throughout to avoid being stereotyped. “I am probably the only woman QC who never did a family law case during her practising career,” she says. “My success at avoiding being stereotyped and managing to have the career I wanted in the field of law that fascinated me did, however, come at a price.”
She was, for example, never a high earner at the Bar. “When I ‘took silk’ in 1999, my annual turnover from my practice was still, albeit only just, in five figures – it hadn’t reached six figures. I am certain, though I could never prove this, that I would have had higher fees overall if I had been male. And quite often up to a third of my practice was pro bono European Court of Human Rights work.”
Knowing that she could not live “on thin air” as a barrister, she had simultaneously taken on two full-time jobs at University College London, as lecturer in EC law and Director of European Legal Studies. Although there was only one salary for the two jobs, due to a lack of funding, this was how she finally became established at the Bar. “It’s also, essentially, why I ran an academic career in parallel with my practice at the Bar from then until joining the ECJ as an Advocate General in 2006.”
Eleanor has also not had to juggle family and career. “I got married late (in 1991) to a wonderfully supportive husband – David Lyon – but sadly he died suddenly in 2000 when we were still trying to start a family, and that was that.”
A talented linguist, musician and sportswoman, Eleanor has plenty of entertaining anecdotes about her life as a woman in a male world at the Bar. One relates to her pupillage training in 1980. “I did a mock plea in mitigation and was ‘rewarded’ by having the trainer, who had been downright vicious to two other women in the group, growl at me, ‘I suppose if we have got to have you bloody women at the Bar it’s at least easier to listen to one who sounds like a bloke.’”
She has a naturally low voice and says, “consciously or unconsciously, I’ve always pitched it there because it gives me more authority and gravitas”.
On another occasion, she was working on a proposed merger between a US company and a German company making gearboxes and was about to be shown round the US factory as part of the background briefing. She excused herself and went to the lavatory to change into a pair of trousers.
“My reappearance so clad caused amazement and some disapproval – these were the days when women barristers wore suits composed of jacket and demure skirt,” she recalls. “I explained straight-faced that I wished to be able to go round, look at stuff, bend across to examine how a machine worked and even climb up and down ladders just concentrating on the business at hand. There was a deathly hush. Then one nice man amongst the serried ranks turned to his colleagues and simply said, ‘Gal’s right, you know’. We took it from there and the lengthy factory tour passed without incident.”
Eliza Orme (1848-1937) was the first woman in England to earn a law degree, in 1888 at University College London; she was 39 years old and already unofficially ‘practicing’ law out of an office in London’s Chancery Lane where she and a colleague prepared the paperwork for property transactions, patent registrations, wills, settlements, and mortgages. ‘I “devilled” for about a dozen conveyancing counsel who kept me busily employed on drafts they wanted done in a hurry, and for twenty-five years I found it both an interesting and profitable employment’, Orme recalled in a 1901 interview. This support-level work was the only legal employment open to women, who were not permitted either to be called to the bar or join the Law Society. It was only a small part, however, of Eliza Orme’s reputation as a public figure.
Family and Education
Orme was the daughter of an upper-middle-class London family with literary and political connections. She went to school at Bedford College for Women and in 1871 began attending lectures at University College London. There she won awards for Political Economy, Jurisprudence and Roman Law. Her mentors were liberals, and she came to identify strongly with the ideology of Political Economy and, eventually, with that of the Liberal Party.
In 1875, her legal studies in progress, Orme set up chambers in Chancery Lane with a partner and fellow UCL student, Mary Richardson. In 1879 Orme was at Lincoln’s Inn, apprenticing in the chambers of a sympathetic barrister and hoping to be admitted as ‘conveyancer under the bar’, but this more prestigious and secure position also remained closed to her. Some time in the mid-1880s, Reina Emily Lawrence replaced Richardson. Lawrence remained a friend throughout Orme’s life and was named executor in her will. Meanwhile, the two women put together career portfolios that included in her own business, public service, voluntary work, journalism and politics.
Eliza Orme was a feminist, but her feminism came second to her Liberal politics. she was an executive member and lecturer for the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In the mid 1880s she joined the Women’s Liberal Federation, and edited their newspaper, the Women’s Gazette and Weekly News. But that organisation split in 1892 over the question of whether it should be calling for women’s suffrage in defiance of official party policy. Orme was one of those who formed the Women’s National Library Association, remaining in accord with the party establishment and Gladstone’s leadership.
She was a member of the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women, a group outspoken in its opposition to protective legislation for women’s work. In 1892 she became Senior Lady Assistant Commissioner to the Royal Commission in Labour, supervising the work of three colleagues; her own particular areas of investigation where the working conditions of barmaids, women in the metal industries, and women’s work in Ireland.
Although she was concerned with women’s rights and opportunities, I believe Eliza Orme would be somewhat dismayed to know that she is remembered in terms of her gender. She valued her own reputation as a sensible ‘sound-minded woman’, the type – to use her own words – to ‘wear ordinary bonnets and carry medium-sized umbrellas’ while being able to undertake a railway journey on her own, or stand by a friend through a surgical operation. I have not yet found any personal papers that might shed light on how she felt about the inherent inequality of her own professional situation.
Eliza and me
I first came across a mention of ‘Eliza Orme, LLB’ in the mid-1980s, as a graduate student in Victorian Studies researching George Gissing, ‘Miss Orme’, as he called her, assisted the novelist with some delicate and complex challenges related to his family life. I became intrigued with the juxtaposition of her law degree with his characterisation of a practical womanly helper. After a great deal of research, an article appeared in the Canadian women’s studies journal Atlantis in 1989 (‘”Sound-Minded Women”: Eliza Orme and the Study and Practice of Law in Late-Victorian England’). I applied for a postdoctoral fellowship that would have been focused on women in the legal profession but when that was unsuccessful my research moved elsewhere. When the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography called for “Missing Persons” I was able to contribute a notice of her life. My interest was revived a couple of years ago when I reconnected with Professor Mary Jane Mossman, of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. A suggestion Prof Mossman made led me back to the Gissing scholar Pierre Coustillas, who possesses the only known photograph of Eliza Orme and generously let me have a copy. All this coincided with my retirement from full-time teaching and the opportunities presented by online research. The time has come for me – and I hope for many others – to discover more about this remarkable figure.
Guest post by Leslie Howsam
Distinguished University Professor Emerita, University of Windsor; Senior Research Fellow, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities
We’re in the second decade of the 21st century but there are still places where women will never be equal. While thankfully, we’ll never see a private members’ club debating the admission of blacks, Jews or gay men any more, it is still apparently acceptable for them to vote on barring females.
As we saw last week. One of the more laughable news pictures featured members of the Garrick Club queuing to cast their votes in their ballot to decide whether women should be admitted after more than 180 years.
Many of them were sporting the Garrick’s gaudy salmon and cucumber tie, so there was a uniform of sorts. It made them look like an elderly prep school trip. And judging by some of the comments made at last week’s Garrick AGM, there are members who appear to have a 1950s public schoolboy’s grasp of gender dynamics.
Baroness Brenda Hale has always been known for her vivacious attitude towards women’s rights and diversity in the legal profession. At grammar school, she first noted there were only half the number of places available for girls as for boys. Whilst reading Law at Girton College, Cambridge, she found that she was one of only six women amongst over 100 law students, and the ratio at the time of women at the Bar was similar. Now, the first woman to sit on Britain’s Supreme Court, Baroness Hale has shown a life-long interest in promoting social equality.
In 1969 she was called to the Bar and began to work flexibly part-time in a family law practice and part-time working academically. Hale specialised in the teaching of family and social welfare law at Manchester University whilst she was there between 1966 and 1984. She has also campaigned to increase diversity of the judiciary; when criticising the old tradition of wearing wigs in Court, she claimed they “deny women their femininity” and “humanise all of us into men”.
Voted the 4th most powerful woman in the UK by BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, Baroness Hale discusses the importance of her appointment as the first female Law Lord:
“This matters because democracy matters. We are the instrument by which the will of Parliament and government is enforced upon the people. It does matter that judges should be no less representative of the people than the politicians and civil servants who govern us”
Hear more from Baroness Brenda Hale at the Georgetown Law Commencement Ceremony here:
Here, Baroness Brenda Hale speaks about diversity in the Supreme Court for the BBC:
Solicitor, Business Leader and Diversity Campaigner
Funke is a multi-award-winning Solicitor, Business Leader and Diversity Campaigner
with 18 years’ comprehensive achievements within niche ventures, regional and
national businesses and global, multinational organisations.
She has been recognised for her inspiring and impactful leadership in both full time &
voluntary C-suite roles and has proven success in stakeholder engagement
(including working closely with UK Central government). She is ranked by the
Financial Times as being a top 15 minority ethnic leader across the UK, US, Ireland
& Canada (Financial Times), one of the top 100 leaders of African/Afro-Caribbean
heritage (Powerful Media’s 2017 & 2018 Powerlists) and listed as being the most
influential black lawyer in Britain (Debretts 500 List for 2017).
Funke provides regular media commentary on a range of topics including business
and diversity and features regularly across a number of the BBC's TV and radio
channels. In addition, she holds several board memberships.
She founded the Akindolie Medical Scholarship in April 2016 in memory of her late
father, Dr. Frank Olufemi Akindolie. This is a privately funded bursary and leadership
mentoring initiative aimed at supporting future doctors from a minority ethnic
She has overcome significant obstacles in progressing her career due to the
narrow view of black women in UK society, especially single mothers. She is
determined to improve the lot of those following her. Persistent and
tenacious, when entering the legal profession 15 years ago, she was
advised to be less ambitious as corporate law was “too competitive for a
black woman”. Instead, she cold-called the corporate department heads at
the top 100 UK law firms and the heads of the top UK in-house legal
departments with a “sales pitch” about herself confirming what she could
offer as a trainee, resulting in several interviews and entry-level job offers.
Funke spoke to First 100 Years anecdotally about her experience in law,
and prejudices she faced:
“I found it extremely difficult to secure an entry-level position when I finished
the QLTT (now QLTS) transfer test and needed to gain experience before
qualification. To get my foot in the door, I drew up a list of the top 100 law
firms specialising in corporate law and did the same with the top 50 in-
house teams. I then proceeded to cold-call the heads of department at all
150 organisations. This lead to several interviews, including one with a
major, fully listed PLC. At that interview, the head of legal (who is English
but whose partner is of Asian descent) asked me if I thought my race had
been a factor in me not getting interviews with other organisations. That
was, honestly, the first time I had even considered race as being something
that could inhibit my progress. Thankfully, I was offered a role by her and
was able to qualify as a solicitor in-house.
Soon after qualifying in 2000, I vividly remember waiting in reception for an
interview at a top 30 City law firm for a corporate solicitor role. I reported
into reception, telling the receptionist the name of the corporate partner who
was interviewing me for the vacant role. The receptionist remarked, “How
odd. I didn’t realise that he was looking for another secretary!” I calmly told
her that I had no idea about his secretarial situation either but was there for
the solicitor role. She was visibly embarrassed when I said this and did
apologise but this is a good example of the barriers posed by unconscious
Relentless in her pursuit of diversity within the legal profession, Funke has
made it her mission to promote diversity to the best of her ability across all
fronts including gender. She mentors and sponsors under-represented
groups into roles in various organisations and is a strong role model
showing that it is possible to achieve against the odds. She believes
strongly in giving back to the community to make a positive impact and
improve the lot of others less able to help themselves.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May awarded her 'Point of Light' status in 2016,
recognising the positive impact of her voluntary diversity leadership outside her day
In June 2017, Funke was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British
Empire) by HRH Queen Elizabeth II for services to diversity in the legal profession
and to young people.
She is the proud mother of a teenaged son.
Most famously known by her married name – Blair – Cherie Booth QC is celebrated for her work in human rights, in particular women’s and children’s rights. Patron of many charities (Breast Cancer Care, Jospice, Scope…), Booth’s legal work mirrors this. She was one of the 22 barristers to set up Matrix Chambers, known for its work in human rights and public law; has her own charity foundation the “Cherie Blair Foundation for Women”; and set up her own international consultancy firm, Omnia Strategy. Booth has represented over 30 governments, as well as manifold international corporations, and is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
Booth is a significant player in women’s rights. She supports controversial quotas for women to help them succeed in politics and business, “If we wait for it to happen naturally, I think it’s going to take a long time”, and empowers women in business through her foundation. Instead of fighting the law on their behalf, she wants them to stand up for what they need themselves. Booth was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013 for her services to Women’s issues and charity and the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill medal in 2007. She is also Vice Chair of the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership founded by US Secretary Hillary Clinton.
Not only has Cherie clocked up an extensive legal resume, but has been an active member of The Labour Party, having run for MP, and supported her husband Tony in his leadership of the party. Certainly a publicly-recognisable figure, Booth has come a long way from her unassuming background. Raised by her mother and grandmother, Cherie was educated at a grammar school in Lancashire. She undertook her LLB at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), gaining a first-class honours, before becoming top in her class for her Bar examinations.
Booth has certainly not been without her controversies. Raised Catholic, she has argued for a renegotiation on the rules against contraception in the Catholic Church, claiming these rules can hold women back in their careers. She also argued on the Begum case, where Begum was banned from wearing her jilbab at school, which in turn meant Begum didn’t return to school due to – as she argues – the infringement of her religious rights. Booth even made a case against her husband’s government, where she argued that the government supported institutionalised discrimination against Gurkha soldiers, who were given less pay and worse conditions than British soldiers.
Cherie Booth has had a colourful career oscillating between law, politics and business, each successful and fruitful. Throughout her life she has fought for the amelioration of women in our society, and equally is a great example of the accomplishments of women herself.
When asked what books she wanted on the GCSE set texts, Shami Chakrabarti cited Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Not only is the book’s lawyer, Atticus Finch, one of Chakrabarti’s inspirations, but the novel itself, she argues, has inspired many towards human rights, “ [it is] touchingly human and intimate but concerned with massive issues of race discrimination and injustice”.
This follows Chakrabarti’s own career: after being called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1994, she worked as a barrister to the Home Office in 1996 and by 2003 she was appointed director of the human right’s organisation Liberty. She has worked on many human right’s cases including the Leveson Inquiry, and was significantly involved in Liberty’s commitment to human rights values in discussion of the ‘War on Terror’ in Parliament. Since being appointed director, she has promoted the importance of post-World War Two human rights frameworks as “an essential component of democratic society”, and campaigned against excessive anti-terrorist measures that succeeded 9/11.
Openly admitting that if she hadn’t become a lawyer, she would be a Hollywood director, Chakrabarti contributes to the cultural-side of life too, having served as the Governor of BFI and regularly speaks on BBC’s Radio 4 (whose Women’s Hour voted her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK in 2013). On top of this, Chakrabarti is the Chancellor of the University of Essex and has served in the same position at Oxford Brookes University: she is also a Visiting Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, and Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford.
Her own motto, “Anyone’s equal, no-one’s superior”, carries on from her opinion that gender discrimination is the “greatest injustice in the world”. Chakrabarti is a great example of a powerful woman, lawyer and Mother, yet she retains humility, deeming her job as an enormous privilege. She is regarded with brilliance and integrity as she continues to pursue her commitment to human rights.
A guest post written by Matthew Holmes.
The call to the Irish bar on the 1st of November 1921 was a historic one. It was the first call to the bar since the Irish Judiciary had been divided following our independence from England, it was also the first call to the bar anywhere in the world where women were admitted. It seems that Ireland was eager to call female barristers at the first opportunity it got. Miss Frances Kyle was the first female barrister in history having come first in the Bar Entrance Examinations- she was also the first woman to win the prestigious Brooke Scholarship. Miss Averill Deverell was also called on the same day and became the first woman to practise at the bar in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. Her portrait currently hangs over the entrance to Averill Deverell Room in the Law Library in Dublin, the nerve centre for Irish Barristers, beneath it a small plaque proudly notes that she was called prior to the admission of any lady to the English Bar. This made headlines in Dublin and also in New York, London and India. It was a year before any woman was called to the English bar; Ivy Williams was admitted on the 10th of May 1922. Trinity College Dublin holds a position of Averill Deverell Lecturer in Law in honour of Ireland’s first practising female barrister. One former holder of this position is Fidelma Macken, who was the first female judge of the European Court of Justice, as well as a Supreme Court Judge in Ireland.
It was another two years after that call before Ms Mary Dorothea Heron admitted to the roll of solicitors as the first female female solicitor in Ireland. In 1963 Ms Justice Eileen Kennedy became the first appointed female judge, it is said that her court rooms were filled with people coming to witness the novelty of a female judge. Ms Frances Moran, took silk in 1947 two years before any female QCs were appointed in England, however she never practised at the inner bar. Ms Justice Mella Carroll in 1977 was the first woman to practise at the inner bar and, in 1980, the first to become a judge of the High Court.
Ireland is now perhaps one of the best countries in the world to be a woman in law. Currently all of the top legal positions are occupied by women- Our Chief Justice Susan Denham was the first woman on the Supreme Court and one of the first female Chief Justices in the world. Our Attorney General Maire Whelan is the first woman to hold that position as is our Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus. Our Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, is also female. Both of Ireland’s female presidents- Mary Robinson, and Mary McAleese, practised at the bar here. In a first for any legal profession in the world, female Irish solicitors now outnumber male solicitors. One article from the Irish Independent in 2012 predicted that within a decade there would also be more female barristers than male in Ireland.
I will not suggest that everything is perfect, after all the Irish Constitution still states that the woman’s place is in the home. However for such a small nation Ireland has had a number of historic firsts and has blazed a trail for women in law. It’s worth remembering that even though she never took her seat in Westminster the first Female MP, Countess Markievicz, was Irish. Long may this trend continue.
The annual number of ‘first-six’ (six-monthly, non-practising) places offered in 2013-14 fell to 397, an 8% drop since 2009/10, according the Bar Standards Board.
The number of places was down by 23% from 2012/13, but the BSB said the spike in the number of pupillages in 2012/13 reflected a change in rules which allowed pupillage training organisations to recruit earlier than previously.
But while the numbers in today’s report are definitive, some lend themselves to subjective interpretation and are likely to provoke debate.
One example is the representation of women in the profession. Given that feminisation of the profession did not begin in earnest until the 1970s, the current proportion looks encouraging. According to the report, women account for nearly half of solicitors with practising certificates – 62,844 compared with 67,538 men. By 2017, there will be as many women solicitors as men.
Top City of London lawyer Elaine Aarons is one of the founding mothers of employment law and is a pioneer of flexible working in the legal profession.
When Elaine qualified in 1982, employment law was not a recognised speciality. Within two years of qualifying, she decided to make it her sole focus. “I felt I was more likely to be successful as a working mother if I focused on a defined area of speciality rather than seeking, as was common in those days, to be more of a generalist,” she says.
In 1992, she was involved in setting up the Employment Lawyers’ Association, which today represents the views and interests of just over 6,000 employment lawyers in the UK.
Elaine became a partner in 1989 on a four-day week at the firm that was to become Eversheds, setting up an employment law practice from scratch. “To be a partner on anything other than a full-time basis was almost unheard of at that time.”
Not only did she become an equity partner within two years, but by 2003, still working on a four-day week, she had built a thriving and internationally recognised team of 34 lawyers and consultants. She set up the first flexible working policy in Eversheds in 2001 “when other firms were not even thinking about flexible working”. The policy was available to men and women and was designed to help high-achieving lawyers have greater flexibility.
Elaine has been a leader and role model for women from her early days. Born in Manchester in 1958, she went to Manchester High School for Girls where she developed both debating and leadership skills – she was a finalist in a national debating competition and undertook a significant leadership role in a national youth organisation.
Inspired by her late father, she studied law at King’s College, University of London. She has worked as a solicitor in top City firms Norton Rose, Eversheds and Withers for 34 years. When she joined Norton Rose there were no female partners and very few female role models.
After 25 years of acting predominantly for employers in relation to employment law matters, in 2006 she decided to focus solely on acting for senior executives, hence her move to Withers. She has gained widespread recognition for her work with high fliers and has acted for the chief executives of eight banks. Unsurprisingly given her background, about a third of her clients are senior women.
With her particular interest in the progression of women into the top jobs, Elaine has been a member of the Center for Talent Innovation Taskforce since 2004. This global taskforce, based in New York, has over 85 global companies as members. “Together they have had a huge impact on the diversity agenda worldwide with over 200 global initiatives to their credit,” Elaine explains.
She is also Secretary and a member of the Board of the International Women’s Forum UK.
Interview by Alison Maitland
This is a short trailer introducing the aims of the First 100 Years project, the UK’s pioneering digital space dedicated to the journey of women in law. Filmed on 12 March 2015, on the date of the official launch at the House of Lords.
Business advisers said firms that fail to improve gender diversity risk becoming “out of step with the modern world” and will be in danger of “being overtaken” by competitors with more female leaders.
The report, by the London business advisory group Skarbek Associates, warns that attitudes and “organisational culture” are still hindering female progression to the top with women accounting for fewer than one in five of full equity partners at the City’s top 10 law firms.
Grand portraits hang in the halls of our profession’s historic buildings – from the Law Society to the Inns of Court – and coherently chart the history of men in the legal profession over hundreds of years. They tell of imposing, confident, impressive individuals that have been some of the country’s leading names in law. Not so for women – however confident, achieving, impressive and successful their story, it is not written in canvas and oil as few of them have risen to the top. It is high time that this should change.
Enter the First 100 Year project I initiated and Obelisk Support, my business, has funded and coordinated since 10 March 2014. It all began with an image from 1982 – that of one woman surrounded by a group of 50 or so male partners marking the 100th anniversary of one of the City of London’s best known law firms. I was fascinated to understand how it felt to be the only woman and what her journey in the legal profession had been. I was anxious to ask her how it felt to be a lonely star? And I am delighted Dorothy Livingston, the woman in the middle, has embraced the project and will share her story with us all.
The aim of the First 100 Years project was ambitious and clearly defined from the outset: a 5 year project (2014-2019) to create the world’s first digital museum (www.first100years.org.uk) dedicated to the journey of women in law. It would include 100 video personal stories of women lawyers as well as hundreds of digitised artefacts and exclusive content to chart our own journey in the legal profession since 1919 to the present.
There’s no doubt that as I reflect on the project’s first, foundation year (2014-2015), we have achieved a lot: we have a great following on social media, have acquired partnership from all of the main legal bodies (including the Law Society and the Bar Council), we filmed our first video with Lady Cohen, a solicitor who now sits in the House of Lords as a Labour peer. Our visitors to the project website spend an average 5 minutes reading our stories.
There’s something empowering about understanding one’s history and celebrating. Although the family tree for women in law goes back less than 100 years, it is for us all to bring each piece of the puzzle we possess to make the picture complete. If not for our sake, for the sake of the next generation of women in law who need to build on the confidence of the past to secure an equal future.
On Christmas Eve 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act became law. On the same day the appointment of the first seven women to be justices of the peace (JPs) was announced by the Lord Chancellor. One of these seven was Miss Gertrude Mary Tuckwell (1861-1951), who shortly after became the first woman to be sworn in as a magistrate for London.
Tuckwell was the daughter of a radical clergyman. As a young woman she trained to be a teacher but later she became involved with the organisation of the Woman’s Trade Union League, which was led by her aunt, Lady Emilia Dilke. On behalf of the League Tuckwell campaigned for women factory inspectors (who conducted court cases years before women were allowed into the legal profession), for a minimum wage and for the protection of women workers from industrial accidents and diseases. A life-long Christian Socialist, she was a supporter of adult suffrage and equal pay for equal work. She also worked for improvements in health services for women and children.
Tuckwell was obviously very interested in the prospect of women entering the legal profession, as her papers in the TUC library contain many newspaper cuttings on the subject. She was given the job (with the other six women appointed in 1919) of drawing up a list of women suitable for appointment as JPs from across the United Kingdom. The list of 172 new women magistrates for England was published in July 1920: Tuckwell had been responsible for proposing most of those who were associated with the labour movement.
Tuckwell was also concerned about the treatment of working-class children in the courts, and advocated the use of probation (rather than corporal punishment) and the appointment of specially selected magistrates to deal with young people. Her connections with politicians and civil servants were excellent, and in 1920 she helped to organise a lobby in support of dedicated juvenile courts for London. But she was also ‘hands on’ in her approach to the work of a magistrate. In her unpublished memoir she recalled visiting the homes of children whose parents had been brought to court because the youngsters were absent from school. She also visited public houses on behalf of the Licensing Justices.
In 1921 Tuckwell became involved in the newly-created Magistrates’ Association (MA), and she served on its Council for nearly twenty years. In its early days the MA held special meetings for the new women JPs, which were often chaired by Tuckwell. She was made president of the National Association of Probation Officers in 1928 and was later its chairman. Tuckwell was passionate about modernising the magistracy: she supported training for magistrates, confessing that when she first joined the bench she ‘felt deeply [her] own ignorance’ and proceeded to self-educate with a large volume of Stone’s Manual for Justices. She also backed the introduction of a retirement age for JPs and led by example by resigning from the bench when she was seventy.
Gertrude Tuckwell was made a Companion of Honour in 1930. Working alongside some of the other first women JPs, she had transformed the administration of justice by promoting training for magistrates, the appointment of specialists to juvenile courts, and the greater use of probation.
Written for the First 100 Years project by Dr Anne Logan of the University of Kent.
At the end of 2014, there were 4,623 female solicitors and 4,609 male solicitors. Just 92 years ago, the first woman solicitor was admitted to the profession and The Law Society said “since then the race to equality has been incredible”.
In an article for the Law Society’s Gazette this week Teri Kelly described this as a “major landmark” for the profession.
It has published figures on traineeships, suggesting an improvement on some lean years for the industry.
In 2013-14, the professional body found there were 530 contracts offered, up from fewer than 500 in the previous three years.
The rate at which trainees were moving into full employment was up from 88% last year to 93%.
Baroness Cohen has enjoyed a colourful career, excelling in a remarkably varied number of fields. A published novelist, a Labour peer and Chancellor of BPP University, Janet’s accomplishments to date can be traced back to the earliest part of her career, when she practiced as a solicitor.
Having graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge with a degree in Law, Janet hit what could have been an early stumbling block. Due to her gender, many of the top law firms flatly rejected her application to take articles with them. However, with perseverance and a bit of luck – a godfather who worked for the Law Society – she managed to get herself taken on, and qualified as a solicitor.
As a young lawyer, she moved to the USA with her husband, and this is where her career as a solicitor came to an end. Upon her return she segued into business consultancy, before orchestrating a move into the Civil Service. Staying here for 13 years before two decades of work in investment banking, Baroness Cohen’s career came full circle with her directorship of BPP Holdings – which trains graduate lawyers – before becoming Chairman and, eventually, Chancellor – a position which she holds to this day. Amongst these many accomplishments, Janet has also forged an extremely successful political career, culminating with her appointment to the House of Lords in 2000 where she sits as a Labour peer, with a particular interest in trade, industry, banking and taxation.
Janet shared some of her personal experiences in the legal field with us and spoke about the difficulties she faced as a woman in the profession, and how she overcame them. To watch the video, click here: http://www.first100years.org.uk/first-100-years-with-baroness-janet-cohen-2/
Baroness Janet Cohen talks to the First 100 Years about her journey in law.
Nurtured on a diet of globalisation, new technology and equal opportunity in the classroom, today’s women expect more from the workplace.
US-based LLM (master of laws) student Anna Bulman is one representative of this new generation. “The way we have been raised is quite different from previous generations,” she says, when asked about women.
“We are much more empowered and even if we can’t achieve complete institutional reform, it is reasonable to expect law firms to meet our needs halfway”
As a young, black woman, Dawn Dixon’s route into a legal career inevitably involved an enormous amount of determination, and even more hard work. That she had not been educated at a red brick university further stacked the odds against her, as this was viewed as essential for anyone with ambitions of climbing to the top of the profession. Instead, her educational background saw her go from a South London convent school to a polytechnic university. After completing her law degree, and facing both of these problems in tandem, Dawn’s attempts to gain articles at City law firms were continually rebuffed, until William Heath & Co offered her a place – clearly not a decision that they would come to regret, given that she had made partner by the age of 28.
Having progressed so quickly to partnership at such an exceptionally young age, Dawn set upon a new challenge, which saw her set up her own firm in partnership with another like-minded lawyer. Webster Dixon became the first City law firm to be founded by black partners. Steered by Dawn, for fifteen years the firm went from strength to strength, until it was hit by scandal when Dawn’s partner, Michael Webster, was found guilty of stealing £75,000 from their client account in order to invest in an associate’s diamond business. The firm went into voluntary liquidation, which seems an unfit ending to what had been such a pioneering firm.
Outside of the practice, Dawn has pursued many other ventures, and in particular has championed the progression of women in law. She became the first ethnic minority chair of the London branch of the Association of Women Solicitors, before becoming chairwoman of the ASW in its entirety. The message that Dawn sends to young female lawyers, and particularly those from an ethnic minority, is that with enough hard work and resolution it is possible to overcome any number of obstacles, and that a successful career in the law is not within the exclusive remit of the privilege.
Born in 1882, Helena Normanton was the first woman to practice at the Bar (although not the first to be called to the Bar: that accolade went to Oxford academic Ivy Williams). She continually shocked and scandalised the legal profession – and wider political circles – with her tireless refusal to accept female exclusion. She was a staunch champion of women’s rights, campaigning throughout her career for equality in both marriage and the working world. However, despite being such a prolific figure in the profession at the time, many of the finer details of Helena’s career remain enigmatic. Without indulging hyperbole, it is fair to say that there is a bizarre disparity between Helena’s achievements and her celebrity in legal history.
Speculation has been cast over how Helena came to join the legal profession, but scholars often find themselves frustrated by the inhibited tenacity of their guesswork; there is very little to be gleaned from history about her pre-legal life. For instance, we know that Helena moved from her home in Brighton to study teacher training at Edge Hill University, but we do not know why she made this move which, geographically speaking, was relatively radical in the early 20th century. Legal historians have suggested that this could have been a product of Edge Hill’s renowned feminist culture, but it is impossible to be sure.
Helena’s intellectual excellence is universally acclaimed, with her talent winning her a scholarship to York Place Science School, and from here her academic career flourished. Having received a first in her modern history degree from the University of London, she began to lecture at both Glasgow and London Universities. At the same time, the women’s movement was gaining momentum, and Helena was seen as a key player in the campaign for equal pay for equal work; she wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Sex Differentiation in Salary’ in 1914, asking – rhetorically and emphatically – whether women should be paid according to their sex or their work. It is a testament to her radicalism that the debate she first addressed a century ago is today still as pertinent as ever.
Given her determination and ability it is inevitable that, when Helena put her mind to becoming a barrister, she would not take “no” for an answer. When she first applied to be admitted to Middle Temple in 1918, she received an unceremonious rejection on the grounds of being a woman, but, instead of admitting defeat in the face of bureaucracy, Helena took the case to the House of Lords. Before the case was heard, though, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill came into play and, once the Act was passed in 1919 Helena tried again. Within hours of her reapplication, she was admitted to the Middle Temple. She swiftly passed her exams and was called to the Bar.
Radically (a word which, it is clear, has become synonymised with the name Helena Normanton), she preserved her maiden name in order to maintain her professional identity and became the first married British woman to be given a passport in her maiden name. This pioneering move, coupled with her feminist writings and novel status as a woman in the profession, gained her substantial notoriety. Despite this, though, she struggled to make ends meet practising at the Bar (fulfilling her own prophecy of the professional inequality first broached in her 1914 pamphlet) and was forced to rent out rooms to lodgers and work as a freelance journalist to make her living.
As a barrister, she was formidable and fierce, becoming the first woman to prosecute in a murder case in 1948, and, alongside Rose Heilbron, the first woman to be appointed King’s Council at the English Bar in 1949. With these accolades and achievements, it is hard to believe that Helena’s place in history is not more celebrated, but, due to the lack of information available on her life, much about her remains enigmatic, and thus so does her fame. As one scholar puts it, Normanton should be to women lawyers what Neil Armstrong is to astronauts, and this is no exaggeration. But, despite her achievements, the name Helena Normanton is often unfamiliar even to the most diligent law students. Perhaps, one day, this disparity will be remedied.
Born in 1954 and educated at Jews Free School in Camden, Barbara Roche’s attitude to equality and diversity coupled with her natural aptitude for public speaking and debate allowed her to flourish in both of her areas of passion: politics and the law. When it came to choosing a path for university, the world of politics triumphed, with Barbara opting to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. Here, in carrying out her role as President of the JCR and with her continued development of her already impressive debating skills, Barbara was honing the exact set of skills that would lend themselves to a career at the Bar. Recognising this, and with her appetite for the law not yet satiated, Barbara decided to train as a lawyer.
She spent around a year at Law School before passing her Bar Finals, and swiftly found a pupillage at a chambers. As can be expected by a woman as talented and ambitious as Barbara, the work here came in thick and fast and, as the chambers happened often to specialise in domestic violence work, she developed a propensity for helping others. From here, a job in a law centre seemed a natural move to make, and she therefore took up a job at a North Lewisham law centre. Here, the work she did for the community – she did most of the advocacy for the centre, even taking one case to the Court of Appeal – created a perfect foundation for a segue into politics. Barbara decided to realise her long-honed ambition to become a Member of Parliament.
Her first bid to enter the political world came with a failed attempt at election as Labour MP for the safe Conservative seat of South West Surrey in 1987. However, success came in 1992, when Barbara became MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, a position which she held until 2005. She was able to translate the skills she had gleaned from her legal career to her work as an MP, which was also informed by her enormous sense of empathy for a diverse scope of people, allowing her to best serve all members of her constituency.
Throughout her political career, Barbara held many positions of great importance, such as Minister of State for Asylum and Immigration, and Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Additionally, Barbara was a staunch champion of women’s rights, and, upon her elevation to Minister for Women, she took great pains to promote family oriented policies and gender equality. She also set up the Castle Awards, which served to recognise those employers who were committed to equal pay. Her career is widely regarded to have been almost constantly successful, and her continued popularity in political circles on a personal level serves to demonstrate the high esteem in which she has always been held.
Born in Queensland, Australia, Margaret’s journey to prominence in the legal profession has taken her to the other side of the world, with an enormous amount of hard work required to get her there. As one of six children born into a working class family, Margaret’s work ethic was instilled into her at a young age, and has neither wavered nor waned since. Studying at the University of Queensland, Margaret was shocked to discover that the pass rate for women was 75 percent, whilst for men it was only 50. Observing this and other such injustices proved formative in the reinforcement of Margaret’s belief that the legal profession did not treat women correctly. This belief, coupled with her tremendous work ethic, served as the impetus which propelled Margaret throughout her career.
Margaret moved to London to study law at King’s College, and, having graduated, she set her mind to becoming a barrister. The reception with which she was met shocked Margaret, who was consistently told that as a woman, and in particular as an Australian one, she would not succeed at the Bar. Despondent, she complied with the advice of others and took up her articles at Lovell White and King. After a year here, though, she realised that this was not the best environment for her, and Margaret’s ambition of becoming a barrister was renewed, and her efforts were redoubled. A testament to her determination and stoicism, Margaret was accepted into the Middle Temple, and, having passed her Bar exams, was selected for pupillage in Stone Buildings. From here, Margaret’s ascendancy was rapid, gaining tenancy at a Chambers (having applied, in typically thorough fashion, to every single one in London) and going from strength to strength in the field.
This ascendancy, though, ground to a halt after the birth of her daughter. Put simply, court clerks now deemed her unable to carry out her job to her previous capacity, and stopped giving her work. Not one to dither over a difficult decision, Margaret set upon orchestrating a segue into public law. Inspired by her own experiences, Margaret also decided to set up the Women Lawyers’ Forum in 1995, conceived as a way for women to come together and discuss their experiences in the changing legal landscape, and for more senior women to advise their younger counterparts. The WLF continues to grow, and is held in extremely high stead within the legal profession – a testament to the undeterrably hard work of a woman who refused to listen when told that she would not succeed.