Tell Your Story

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

#OnTheRoll

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

 

From council house to QC

I was born in 1965 and given to Barnardos in my early months as my birth mother couldn't keep me. She was a mixed-race "war baby" who grew up herself in Barnardos and became pregnant by a Pakistani man who she wasn't married to. I eventually went to a wonderful family in Somerset and stayed with them for the rest of my life. My mum was my mum and my dad was my dad. We lived in a 3 bedroomed council house - my parents, sister and two brothers. We weren't well-off, but we were encouraged to do our best - work hard, be honest, help others. My dad was a skilled factory worker and my mum went from being a cleaner to a care assistant then manager at an old people's home.

I didn't do well academically - let's say I was a slow burner. I got four O Levels and two unimpressive A Levels. But it was enough to get me started and I ended up at Manchester Poly and got a. 2:1 in English. I'd wanted to be an architect as a youngster, but I had no relevant skills apart from being able to draw a straight line and a love of buildings. So I opted for teaching. Having been persuaded into a summer job in Oxford with my friend, I ended up applying to the University to do my teacher education there. It was just a lark really, but I got in and joined St Hilda's College. After that I started my career - I moved to London and taught for five years in Hackney.

I'd always been an advocate of sorts - from starting a debating club in my school (which was unfortunately soon infiltrated by some National Front boys who wanted to "debate" my brown skin), to Student Union work, to speaking for my students in all sorts of official situations. So when my teaching establishment had to make a round of redundancies I decided to change career and study law. Having looked at the various legal avenues I decided upon the Bar because I liked the idea of standing up and speaking for people. I knew immediately that it had to be criminal law, and just as quickly that it had to be criminal defence. I knew from the start that I wanted to speak to a jury - as an 'ordinary person' myself, I thought that it would helpy voice to sound like what it is - genuine.

It was very hard to get a pupillage after my studies. Many people told me that it wouldn't be, that Chambers would snap me up because I could tick a lot of 'right on' boxes - the word 'diversity' wasn't used twenty years ago. But it wasn't like, that - I came from an 'unusual' background and most Chambers did not take even a first, let alone a second, look at me. But one of them did, and a fell under wing of a wonderful 'Pupil Mistress' as women were the called. She taught me everything I needed to know about my conduct as a barrister and gave me much more confidence than I ever thought I could have. After a sod grounding in this small general law set, both she and I moved on to a more politically 'left' Chambers, and from here my career really started to bed in. I loved the criminal law and it was so exhilarating to be at a set which only defended (as I had always done). But it was still a small set and all the 'big' cases went elsewhere. I was by now committed to a lifelong career as a criminal defence advocate and I craved the opportunity to represent people accused of unpleasant or difficult acts - for some reason the harder or uglier the case would be to defend, the more I wanted to defend it. I suppose that years of doing this are what eventually tooky to Silk.

I decided to apply for Silk because I had done many very serious cases and had been Leading Junior Counsel many times, but I had reached the point where I no longer wanted to "pass on" my most grave and complex cases to a Queen's Counsel - I was certain that I was ready to conduct those cases myself. And I was right - I was awarded Silk in 2017 and was Leading a murder trial at the Old Bailey two weeks later.

When I look back over my twenty years as a barrister, so many things have changed for women. I was required to wear a skirt at my first set of chambers - so I used to carry one in my bag and change into it in the Inner Temple library toilet. Whilst there was undoubtedly a degree of diversity at the Bar - not least by virtue of the stellar trail blazed by the amazing pioneering women seen here - it was still, even them, predominantly a public school "old boys club". This has changed so much - the criminal Bar certainly reflects much more the people that that it represents and that it speaks to. But I am only the 389th woman ever to take Silk - so we are nowhere near finished yet, we've barely begun.

I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be able to make a difference…

I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, it was not usual in my family to go to University, we come from a rural village on the west coast of Scotland and lots of people suggested to me that it might be too difficult and that I should maybe think about a different career, but I was never put-off and even though the journey has been difficult at times, I don't regret my choice for a minute. There are opportunities to make a difference, sometimes big, sometimes small. It still feels like a real privilege. I qualified in 2002 so I've had plenty chance to reflect. I love to encourage others to think about a career in law and have gained so much from mentoring others.

Women in Law Initiative Pakistan

The female lawyers in Pakistan were a highly fragmented and marginalized class. The challenges they faced were common but there was a missing link- they were not united, they were not interconnected and had no forum or voice that brought them together. In 2016 Nida Usman Chaudhary started the women in law Initiative in Pakistan that works to bring together female lawyers and provides them a platform for networking and professional development. In addition to that she conducted the first ever dialogue series focusing on women in law in Pakistan to highlight their challenges and opportunities. Her commitment to bring forward female role models culminated in the first ever compilation on women in law in Pakistan that highlights the work of inspiring female lawyers from all across Pakistan. The platform she creates is now used by many female lawyers to organise themselves for causes, to seek professional support and networking and also to advertise and apply for jobs serving the interests of so many female advocates. Her efforts have inspired nationwide initiatives by other organizations as well that are now working and collaborating to facilitate female lawyers. Her efforts have created more space for women and have brought them together. Ms. Nida is truly an inspiration and the torch bearer of equal opportunities and treatment of female lawyers in Pakistan and her services to the cause of female lawyers are an inspiration on their own. Currently she chairs the Lahore high court bar association's Committee on gender equality and diversity and is the ambassador in Pakistan for alliance for equality in dispute resolution. She is working towards a more inclusive legal profession both for victims by equalising access to justice and for the stakeholders by initiating gender sensitivity trainings for lawyers.

My inspiration

I am writing in response to what I read in the Inner Temple Year Book. For myself, with no lawyers in the family, at about 7 or 8 years old, I cut out of my father's paper a photo of a robed female barrister and stuck it up on my wall and said, "that's what I am going to do". And that is what I did (although not so illustriously). I have no idea who it was but I suspect Rose Heilbron. I don't know what occasion this would have been in her life, or maybe no particular one, it was about 1965-6. Later during the early part of my career I became friendly with Hilary Heilbron when I did my pupillage in her chambers (where she was the only woman) and she too was a role model for me.

Times have changed, thank goodness

I qualified as a solicitor in 1991 but before then, I had been the first person in my extended family to go to university. My grandparents were immigrants who had come to England before the second world war and raised a large family in which the thought of going to university had simply not been entertained: getting a job and contributing to the family finances had been their priority.

I would never have made it to university without a full educational grant and I still feel thankful for that. When I arrived at my first seat at a firm in a northern city one of the partners looked me up and down and commented, “I am sure you are looking forward to acquiring a professional wardrobe…” and the horror I felt then has never completely faded away. Even now, I follow the adage, ‘don’t dress for the job you have, but for the job you want’ and ensure that I am never less than perfectly turned out each day for work. At that time, I simply had no money and my family couldn’t help: I applied for a C&A store card and bought suits from there – I was determined to ensure I looked the part from then on – even if it was on a tiny budget.

The hard work had already been done by women in my parents’ generation and I felt as though I stood on the cusp of something quite extraordinary: that parity with men in the legal profession would be attainable in the near future. I remember quite clearly being sent on a training course where I was the only woman and giving a presentation entitled ‘women in the law’ in which I had a graph illustrating the growing number of women qualifying as solicitors.

I moved firms to a more suburban practice where clients would call in to the office and ask for the ‘lady solicitor’ (there were three female solicitors in the office, the other two being very feisty women about ten years older than me) or would ask how old I was and when I would qualify. Working briefly on the duty solicitor rota at the magistrates’ court, crusty old defendants would ask me when my boss was coming to represent them… I took it all with good humour and enjoyed assuring them that I would be their representative and that really, I did know what I was doing…

But occasionally, I felt as though I had plunged back into the 1950s. The senior partner had banned women from wearing trousers in the office and I sometimes suspected that I was taken along to see corporate clients more for decoration than my legal skills. Of course, I made sure that my legal skills were demonstrated, but even so… there was one event which still makes me angry now, over 25 years later: the firm was pitching for some corporate work and we had put together a bid document and it contained biographies for each member of the legal team. I had worked on the document in its early stages, but had not seen the final version. When I did, I was taken aback. The biographies listed our extra-curricular interests: the men were all skiing or breeding horses, racing buggies or doing other manly things. My biography said that when I was not at work, I enjoyed homemaking. I objected furiously and pointed out that I had not been consulted, but the partner in charge of the bid simply laughed and there was nothing I could do about it.

I left private practice and went in-house where I am valued for my knowledge, skill and inter-personal skills. Times have changed, thank goodness.

Then and Now

I studied Law accidentally, after going to University to read English, I was so determined not to be a teacher like my mother that I chose law instead. I was admitted in 1984 after retaking my law finals. There were no lawyers in my family, I got my articles after being asked 3 memorable questions at my interview. "Do you wear shoes?" (The Senior Partner didn't - he had bad feet) "Do you object to blood sports?" (The sporting prints were a bit of a give-away) "Do you drink?" (50:50 call - answer "only to excess"). within a month I was the litigation department -my principal was wildfowling in Scotland. I had the most fantastic articles - I was taught well if a little eccentrically. My advocacy training was as many unfunded Employment tribunals I wanted to take on. Always followed by the question "did you win?"
There were 3 female solicitors in Blackburn when I was an articled clerk. The police refused to let me walk through the male cell block as the duty solicitors rep, Looking back it was amusing - at the time it was irritating. I moved into local government in the late 80's because they had maternity leave and in private practice you mostly got sacked when you even mentioned starting a family.
Local Government has been tremendous fun and I have been privileged to work with some exceptional people both politicians and officers. I would pass on this wise advice - if you love the Law, rather like Sausages, never watch it being made!
These days of the 12 City Solicitors Borough Solicitors General Counsel in Greater Manchester I am delighted to be one of the 9 who are women.

Sports law

I have been privileged to work as a sports lawyer - mostly in football, other sports too - for 17 years. There are things I can point to where I can say 'I made a real difference there, I even changed a little bit of the world'. It has been hard work (what legal career isn't?) and not without its difficulties and stresses, but I still have 'pinch me' moments. People often say 'what's it like working in such a male-dominated environment?', but I can honestly say that being a woman was hardly ever a barrier to my career in this branch of the law. I would say to any young woman work hard and follow your dreams: the world can truly be your oyster.

Shelagh J. Gaskill

This is a response to a prompt I received from your Twitter account.

My mother left school in Leeds at 16, and married my father, who lectured in law at what was then Leeds College of Commerce, at 19. She took 'A' level law and did secretarial jobs, and eventually took a full time LLB at the University of Leeds, graduating at 29. She went back to Leeds on a temporary lectureship which eventually lasted for 7 years. Among her colleagues were Professor Hogan, of Smith & Hogan on Criminal Law, and Geoff Hoon, the now disgraced politician.

After leaving Leeds University, she did a training contract at what was then Dibb Lupton. This was in the days when Dibb Lupton vied with another Leeds firm, Hammond Suddards, to be number 1 on the Solicitor magazine's list of Top 10 Worst Firms to work for. It at Dibbs that she met her mentor, Simon Chalton, who was in the process of inventing the framework for big, IT outsourcing contracts.

The glass ceiling at Dibbs was fairly low. My mother left to join Masons (now Pinsent Masons) and took the whole of the information law function of Dibbs with her. She was one of the partners who opened the Leeds office of Masons. After a few years, she transferred to the London office, in Clerkenwell. By that time, she had completed, among other things, the outsourcing of BAE Systems' IT to CSC. This was the first £1 billion+ outsourcing contract in the UK and, possibly, the world.

She was an advisor to the Home Office under the Blair government, and contributed wording to the Data Protection Act 1998. She was once asked if she wanted to be Information Commissioner. Her team did the legal work which demerged Vodafone from Racal Electronics, and Zeneca from ICI. During the latter project, she gave a presentation to the board of ICI about information governance strategy. In response to ICI's account of how they intended to proceed, she called them "a bunch of wankers", and was soon after told that her services would not be required. She did get further work from Zeneca.

She continued to practice until a few months before he untimely death, in 2006. Masons held a memorial event for her, at which one of the speakers was Richard Thomas, the then Information Commissioner.

Just another Boys’ Club

As many relatives that have joined the legal profession have all been male. It is quite easy to have the built a idea of this being the only boys club left in existence. However, with my first exposure to the legal profession there was a form of amazement at seeing my gender doing the job as well as any male. Well, how come I was not doing this I asked my self one day. I am at my best in this environment. There is no challenge nor is there any brick wall stopping.
I studied and studied to be the best that I could be.. Furthermore, I had encountered many chambers offering to support me throughout and was provided with the best colleagues to work alongside. Each day has been a pleasure, whilst being a women have come to understand that gender is not a barrier. And most importantly that the ideology of this being an all boys club is utter nonsense. It has become a pleasure working in the legal sector and have found this to be the career that has made me who I am today.

Female role-models in the Law: the good, the bad and the amazing!

As a woman called to the Bar in the late 1990's I was surprised to find a female pupil-master whose approach to pupillage was to make it (in her own words) as tough for me as it had been for her some 15 years earlier. Not only was my male colleague (also a pupil at the same level as me) treated more favourably in terms of getting work, he was also not given the 'housekeeping tasks' of collecting the pupil-master's lunch and dry-cleaning! Not the best of starts in the Law, but I'm pleased to say that I went on to forge my own career and meet some of the most inspiring female role-models that the industry has to offer. Now, as a female leader, I am grateful to all the senior individuals I've worked with on the journey so far, both male and female: I have learnt something from each and everyone of them. As for the learning from my days in pupillage: I can say with confidence that I have never (and never will) ask someone who works with me to collect my dry-cleaning!

My great Aunt’s lipstick

I became a solicitor because by great aunt was one of the early female solicitors, having worked her way up from an articled clerk. I now work in house, and I love every aspect of my role - there isn't a job I'd be more suited to doing. However, in hindsight, my decision to follow my aunt was probably much more based on her constant glass of whiskey by her side, the fact she always wore trousers and her constant red lipstick. Either way (and probably minus the whiskey) it worked well for me - but it also shows me the power of having strong role models at every stage of your life.

In spite of our adversities, together we climb.

A female teacher laughed at me when I told her I wanted to be a lawyer. She told me to consider other options, something less academic. As a young insecure girl, this could have been the end of my dream. Fortunately for me, it was just the beginning. I was very privileged. Although I came from a poor background and had zero connections, my family were hard workers. The graft of my parents taught me that despite the odds, hard work and determination would lead to success.

I became determined to achieve my ambition and to prove that I was worthy. I am now very proud to say that I am a dual qualified Scottish Solicitor and New York Attorney working in London at the age of twenty nine. I have future ambitions to join the Scottish Bar and I am aiming for the Bench. I am not afraid to aim high and I am not afraid of the obstacles in my path.

The number one issue that remains for women in law is power: “Dear Sirs” and the like. While there may be more women in law than men; in disproportionate numbers the people at the top are men. Whether it is conscious or unconscious bias, time off for maternity leave or other “female led” family matters, women have to fight for each advance up the ladder. In my current position, I am negatively considered “feisty” because of my assertiveness.

In spite of our adversities, together we climb. On a daily basis, we work to overcome bias and fight for equality and our rightful seat at the Table. I will never forget to remember and support the young ambitious girls with the odds stacked against them; and I intend to lead by example.

I wanted to be a Spy

I come from a mining community in Scotland. My parents and Grandparents were very involved in the NUM, and my father, in particular was very driven by the need to extinguish inequality of any kind. In his world view, education was power if you were working class, and that equality would be achieved through knowledge. he told me from an early age that I was going to be a lawyer. I was devastated as I had my own dreams and plans. I wanted to be a spy. He was horrified and told me 'we've never had a spy in the family, lassie'. I pointed out that we had never had a lawyer either, and that even his Mother was a pit head worker, but there was no knocking him back on this..

I agreed to study law to please him, thinking it would probably come in handy once I was a spy, anyway. Some how, during the process, I realised that women, and I particular BME women were really discriminated against, and that I should do something about that.

After University, I worked as a legal researcher for a year for LAG, researching the effectiveness of Non Molestation injunctions. Through the process, I met a group of very feisty Black women working in the VAWG sector, and decided I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I did finals, then started working with their clients. Over 30 years, I have specialised in working with BME women and children who are fleeing all forms of abuse including harmful cultural practice. I have also campaigned for Publicly funded legal services - including giving evidence about LASPO at the UN.
Last year, my brother told me that he was proud of me and that I had 'continued what Dad started'. I was gobsmacked, and very moved.
I love my work, I love my clients and working in the law, for this niche group, has been a total privilege and a pleasure.
Maybe I'll be a Spy when I retire.

“Over my dead body”

When in 1966 I became head of my Chambers, I resolved to make it entirely non-discriminatory. Indeed my Chambers was known scornfully as the "United Nations". But we had no women members. Our Clerk, whose views were even then utterly old-fashioned, declared "A woman comes into these Chambers over my dead body!". After 5 years he was reluctantly retired. Not long after that we had our first female applicant for pupillage. When she attended for interview, the whole of Chambers attended. It was a hot day, so we sent out for ice creams. The applicant had the by no means easy task of answering our questions whilst manipulating her ice cream. Needless to say, she passed with flying colours. She was the first of many women members.

Per Ardua

I was first generation, not only in a profession; my parents left school at 13 and 14 respectively for financial reasons. I went to a direct grant grammar school and came to the Bar having stood for Parliament and being an elected councillor in Camden LBC.
I had to struggle to get started, having obtained a pupillage with Lord Irvine, but survived in practice. In 1991, married with two young children, I founded and was elected first Chair of the Association of Women Barristers.
I specialise in civil and family law. I have an international practice. I advise the US Presidential Inquiry into unsafe vaccines, a field in which I have represented Claimants in UK and US cases for many years. I also do international finance cases.
My beloved son Harry was injured by unsafe vaccines, and died as the result of medical negligence, aged 20. I know a lot about S Ns., and how difficult it is to practice with an S.Ns. child in the family.
It has been tough, but I think I can still help to make a difference, in various ways.

The competition

I am lucky enough to be half way through a training contract at the age of 24 with 3 years of experience behind me already. I am also a woman and a woman who has a particularly young face.

I still find that every time I walk into a court room, which is more often than not filled with white middle aged men, I feel like the underdog. However, I see it as an extra challenge. There is nothing quite like winning a case when the odds are not in your favour simply due to being a young woman.

For some unknown reason, many men seem to find it very difficult to see a young woman succeed in law. Even before my training contract interview, a fellow applicant, a male, tried to throw me off by highlighting the £30,000 deal he had secured the firm that week. He knew full well that as a human rights lawyer, I could never compete.

Sadly for him, I did secure a training contract and I went on to secure the city's Junior Lawyer of the year award - the shortlist was only women, which I was immensely proud of.

Sadly I know these battles will continue into my career as a solicitor. However I know that my only competition is with myself; to be the best Lawyer and human I can be.

A young woman in a man’s world

I am lucky enough to be halfway through a training contract at the age of 24 with 3 years of experience behind me already. I am also a woman and a woman who has a particularly young face. I still find that every time I walk into a court room, which is more often than not filled with white middle aged men, I feel like the underdog. However, I see it as an extra challenge. There is nothing quite like winning a case when the odds are not in your favour simply due to being a young woman. For some unknown reason, many men seem to find it very difficult to see a young woman succeed in law. Even before my training contract interview, a fellow applicant, a male, tried to throw me off by highlighting the £30,000 deal he had secured for the firm that week. He knew full well that as a human rights lawyer, I could never compete. Sadly for him, I did secure a training contract and I went on to secure the city's Junior Lawyer of the year award - the shortlist was only women, which I was immensely proud of. Sadly I know these battles will continue into my career as a solicitor. However I know that my only competition is with myself; to be the best Lawyer and human I can be.

Dear Sirs/Madams

One day, my firm decided to recognise the role and impact of women in law by amending documents to begin with "Dear Sirs/Madams". Before that day, everything was addressed only to "Sirs". That day was 15 September 2016.

Stand tall in the face of adversity.

I came from a very rough public school. By the time I left school I had been exploited, raped, and abused. It is astonishing how I even managed to finish my GCSE's. I then went onto college where I became involved in parties (and things that go with them) but still managed to achieve A levels. I then went to University to read law and spent most of these three years recovering from my childhood. Nevertheless, I left with a law degree and went on to study the BPTC. I then worked in a solicitors as a criminal defence lawyer which enabled me to explore explanations as to why the bad things that happened to me, did. I now practice as a barrister in London at a very good criminal set. Through all of the terrible things that have happened to me, I now have the fire in my heart to prosecute and defend fearlessly. Keep going.

Late arrival

As a student in a secondary modern when 15 I was told the law wasn't for me. I did an arts degree but never knew what to do with it. Have done many jobs including cinema manager, accounts and working with children I knew I had to make a change. At 47 I applied to do GDL was accepted! From there to the LPC. I got a job as a paralegal on basis if I fitted I would get training contract after 6 months. At 52 I've been qualified as a criminal and mental health lawyer 18 months. I love it! Will never earn lots but finally feel as if I've come home. You are never too old to go for your dreams

Making the law work flexibly

I qualified as a solicitor in 2009, working in private client. In 2010 I had my first child and returned to work 9 months later on 3 days a week, with flexible hours. My second child was born in 2012, and I have recently been made Partner and offered a fantastic new opportunity at a new office. My story shows that a career in law can be flexible and fulfilling.

Babies at the Bar

I was called to the Bar in 1964 at a time when the number of women in practice was barely 100. I was very fortunate to secure two consecutive six month pupillages in a top commercial set and a general common law set, respectively, and was offered a tenancy at the chambers where I did my second six months, I was at the time the only woman member in chambers, which did not feel particularly strange as there were so few of us about. They were a terrific set, busy, welcoming and friendly and the only time I experienced any possible discrimination was when I overheard our senior clerk telling a solicitor on the phone that for the following morning's case he could have Mr So and So or Mr Somebody Else - "or, of course, there's always Miss K". I didn't protest as I was indeed the most junior member of chambers and thought, perhaps charitably, that this may have been the reason for his reluctance to push me forward.


I was married within two years of starting practice and had my first baby a year later, followed by No. 2 a year after that. (I was in court four days after I had the first one - it would have been sooner, but the weekend intervened - and two days after number 2, with my mother sitting outside Westminster County Court, rocking the carrycot.) Having two babies at the Bar presented some practical childcare issues, as neither my husband, a very junior hospital doctor nor I, with my almost non-existent income (lots of work, but the cheques were few and far between) could afford a nanny and nurseries and child minders were also beyond our means. So I took them into chambers and they often accompanied me to court, when my mother was unable to look after them. I was breastfeeding the younger one and, sharing a room with three male members of chambers necessitated some delicate negotiations - with three hasty departures at four-hourly intervals.


At the magistrates' court, there was usually a female police officer or even a prison officer who would "mind the baby" while I nipped into court for a quick plea in mitigation, or the very occasional fight. The screams that penetrated the courtroom walls invariably came from somebody else's child; mine were invariably quiet - perhaps cowed by the solemn atmosphere of the law in action. In the county courts, the friendly clerks would also be happy to coo over the pram in return for chocolates or, usually, my heartfelt thanks alone. It could only last so long. To everybody's immense relief (I'm sure) I decided to take up a legal civil service post while the children were of pre-school age, intending to return to chambers once they were old enough to go to school full-time. I thought a steady income, which would pay for adequate childcare, was just about compensation for the loss of my practice at the Bar which I had enjoyed so much. My Head of Chambers was most understanding - he had a working wife himself - and the clerks promised me that my seat in chambers would still be there for me when I needed it. 18 years later, and with another child added to our family, I was happily prosecuting murderers, fraudsters and IRA terrorists at the DPP's department and not missing self-employed practice at all.


However, the school holidays presented something of a problem. I had an enormous room at the DPP and the children could happily occupy themselves with drawing and games at one end, while I got on with paperwork at the other and nobody was any the wiser. There were lots of spare old papers around, with blank backs, for them to use. However I was disconcerted to be challenged by a stipe at a "Section 1" committal, who asked me if "there was any significance in the crayoned drawings" on the reverse of the original documents I had just submitted.


I prosecuted a woman for a offence under the Exchange Control Act, at Staines Magistrates Court one summer, during the school holidays, and having been given leave for the afternoon, we planned a visit to Windsor Safari Park. I took the girls down in the car, intending that they would sit outside the court while I did the summary trial, as they were too young to enter the courtroom. On the way down, I explained the allegations against our defendant, who was pleading guilty. A kindly police officer at the court told the they could creep into the courtroom if they were very quiet and they duly sat mesmerised at the back of the court. When I joined them afterwards, they were shocked by the demeanour of the accused. "What a horrible looking woman", they said. "You could see she was a criminal. She had a really nasty face and that awful blue hat!" I had to explain that she was the Chairman of the Bench. My defendant was a perfectly innocuous-looking person, whose back was turned to my daughters throughout the brief hearing.


Sadly none of my three daughters has followed me into the law; maybe it's for the best.

Determination achieves results

When I left school I joined the Civil Service, working in the Crown Court and the County Court. When I returned to work after maternity leave I decided to leave the Civil Service and obtain a professional qualification which would allow me to do a job which challenged me mentally and gave me some responsibility. I did 2 A levels at night school and then joined a firm of solicitors who paid my Ilex fees and gave me time off to attend college and University. It was hard work running a house, looking after a child, working full time and studying but I passed all my exams and when I became a Fellow I was successful in obtaining a position as Charted Legal Executive with Durham Constabulary. I am responsible for investigating and handling all claims against the force and have a small team to assist me. I am part of the senior management team. In January 2017 I will have been with the force for 20 years and will be eligible to collect my Long Service Award. I love my job and feel I am making a difference. This would not have been possible without determination to succeed, my long suffering husband and the professional qualification from Cilex.

Women lawyers & the claims industry

I qualified in 2006 and have found that many of my female colleagues find themselves 'stuck' in personal injury work. It is of course true that many enjoy this area of law, but it remains extremely difficult for women from working class or non-white backgrounds to get exposure to other practice areas. Many firms in the North West of England are over-reliant on fast track personal injury work and it is a major source of legal employment here. It is a sad fact that many PI paralegals are unlikely to secure a training contract despite working very hard for years and obtaining good quality experience.


At college in the late 1990s, I struggled to decide whether to take the solicitor or barrister route, I found myself opting for the former because I lacked confidence and didn't believe I had a chance at getting pupillage despite my great academic results. I had several training contract interviews with big North West firms but no joy. In order to continue on the path to qualification instead of giving up, I moved to a seaside town and did a stint as a paralegal for a firm who could only offer me a training contract with seats in personal injury and conveyancing. I wanted to work in litigation, so I continued with my personal injury cases and have done ever since. Once you are 'pigeon-holed' in this way, it is very difficult indeed to shake it off. There are return to work support services for those women lawyers who have taken time off with children, but nothing similar it seems for women who need a new challenge and would like to re-train into a different practice area.


Given there are now more women entering the profession than men, I very much hope that they have access to the full range of opportunities and don't find themselves limited to those (perhaps) less prestigious practice areas by their gender and background.

We’ve already got a woman…..

I was called to the Bar in 1960. I managed to find a pupillage. Finding a seat in Chambers was much more difficult. Heads of Chambers were usually willing to see me but when it came to the question of a seat in Chambers the usual response was: We'd love to have you, my dear, but we've already got a woman. And that was that!

At that time, when women were trying to make a career at the Bar, Heads of Chambers and no doubt the members considered they had already done their bit in having "A Woman" in Chambers.

Eventually I found a set where not the active head but the second member in seniority offered me a place. However when the actual Head of Chambers heard this he was not happy. It took some time and persuasion by his colleague for the offer to me to be repeated. As far as work was concerned at the time women were considered acceptable to do family work (they may know about this) and crime on the basis they could melt the (male) judge's heart when it came to sentence.

In the background as others have said there was always the voiced male concern about sharing the lavatories with women (as though they did not do so at home), sitting at their desks without their jackets and revealing their braces and telling their after court stories.

After about ten years in practice I moved from my first set of Chambers to a new set started by another woman member of the same chambers. We began with three women and three men. The fact of that number of women in one set meant that many men assumed it was a women only set.

The male concerns described above persisted even among judges until much more recently. In the 1990s although welcomed by colleagues to the Circuit Bench I recognised the same attitudes to begin with to my arrival and joint meetings.

Not disclosing my gender

I was admitted to the Solicitors' Roll in July 1977. When I applied for jobs I knew instinctively that I would get nowhere if firms to whom I applied knew from the outset that I was female. I always believed that if I could get as far as an interview, I would have a good chance of success. I therefore sent with all my job applications, my curriculum vitae which I had drafted in such a way as to omit any hint of my gender. I put in only the initials of my forenames, and I omitted such details as the fact that my grammar school's full title ended with the words,"For Girls". My strategy worked and I was invited to four or five interviews with various firms of Solicitors who of course all wrote to me as "Mr. ...." . I would then turn up at each interview and the person interviewing me invariably started with the words, "Oh, I didn't know you were a woman" and I would pretend not to know the reason for the misunderstanding. But, having got that far, the interview would then take place in a straightforward fashion. Two firms offered me a job which I declined for my own reasons. Eventually I accepted the third job offer because I was anxious not to be too fussy or risk never getting a job at all. The interview that led to that job, started in just the same way as ever, and I was actually told, "We don't employ women" (this, despite the Sex Discrimination Act which had come into force about 2 years earlier, making such decisions unlawful). Then I was told that South Yorkshire was a mining area and miners in particular would never tolerate a woman as their Solicitor. I retorted that the fact that I was female had never bothered the shipyard workers of Jarrow, where I had trained as an Articled Clerk.. Anyway, it was an uncomfortable interview which led to me working there but the firm turned out to be excellent and I was very happy there. There was no more mention of my gender and I got on well with the clients. I was the only female Solicitor in the town for about 2 years. I retired from the profession in 2003 and as far as I was aware, there was no more discrimination on account of my gender.

What does not kill you only makes you stronger!

I was called to the Bar in 1994, there were many trailblazers before me but even when I joined Chambers there was the concept of 'ghetto' chambers for ethnic minorities whose fathers were not judges or solicitors. I was lucky after 200 applications and 8 interviews I was offered a pupillage. One of 2 non-white pupils and one of 3 women, I was a funded pupil receiving £1500 to support myself, One day at the regular 4pm Chambers tea ritual organised by the pupils (usually the women) the seniors and juniors would gather to talk about their day, gossip, or await news and updates from other barristers who were in exciting trials. Our most senior member of Chambers would wander downstairs to tea (after boring someone else about how Hitler could have won the war). He would precede to ask one of the 'two little brown mice' where his tea was! The joy of the Bar. I recall being so broke that I lived off tinned food and toast. There were days where I watched others tucking into lunch which I could not afford to buy whilst my stomach rumbled, I managed to secure a credit card from Midland Bank to be able to travel to Court to earn a small brief fee which might just cover the room I rented for one week at £50. It just made me more determined. 22 years on there are times when being a mom with a full time+ job leading a team in an international company raises different challenges. The battle is the dilemma between home and work. There have been circumstances where I have missed a vital part of my child's upbringing. The sting of guilt does not fade. Yet my superiors, some of whom are childless, could never understand the sacrifice I made. The intention and motivation behind the decision was usually a desperate need for equality and fear of being out sight and therefore out of mind. Now with reflection, those sacrifices were never worth it. By the time, I fought myself and them to take my rightful seat at the table, it was whipped away! There were other rewards but none that could ever compare to the lost moment in time or the ongoing unconditional love of children.

Coming up on the outside

Arriving from Australia in January 1952 with an incomplete Sydney University degree and an offer for Oxford in October 1953 by which time I would be 21 and seemingly very old I sought alternatives. At a party the late Michael Sherrard suggested " why not read for the Bar? " What did he mean and how to go about it?

Joining an Inn was step one. Ignorant, I decided to inspect these inns. Research revealed Lincoln's was "chancery", i.e. Dickensian. Gray's was "provincial", how dreadful. Then there were two. At Inner the under treasurer suggested that Middle was like the black hole of Calcutta which, as a presumed practitioner of the White Australia policy I would not feel comfortable in.

So Middle it was, and a happy, happy choice.

Reading for the Bar, studying at a tutorial factory, Gibson and Weldons, and working as a clerk for a stuffy firm of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn kept me busy for two years. If there was sexual discrimination it passed me by. The senior partner of the solicitors used my services occasionally to go to Dickins and Jones in my lunch hour to buy sexy underwear for his never seen mistress. It was fun and amazing.

Having finished the Bar exams by the summer of 1953 but not yet eaten enough dinners I sought a pupillage.

The family solicitor introduced me to IH (Jack) Jacob who had already had a woman pupil, Poppy Stanley, and he agreed to take me along with Louis Blom-Cooper. We slaved doing pleadings galore which Jack threw into the waste paper basket, unread. He then dictated model documents which impinged for their brevity and simplicity.

Getting Chambers was a different ball game. Jack kept Louis but I was out because the clerk and the other barristers would not have a woman. They did not do so for years. The first was Lord Hailsham's daughter... Oh well!

After six months as a door tenant frequenting criminal courts on the south eastern circuit and having the occasional dock brief and doing lectures in the evenings at a poly in Woolwich I got lucky.

At 2 Dr.Johnson's Buildings a split had occurred leaving three barristers and 6 rooms. I spoke to Albert the clerk and he said they did not take women but that Mr. Rochford the head of Chambers would see me. He was like Mr. Pickwick. He said that the Bar in its un-wisdom had decided to admit women. That my academic record was excellent and that he felt it was his duty to offer me a place which was available.

I went out and sat in the clerk's (only one) room and Albert went in to see Rochford. He was clearly aghast. He told me that there would be a problem about sharing a room. About the lavatories.

When I came back to start the following week Peter Archer later Solicitor General, Labour, and Lord, agreed I could be in with him. We enjoyed 22 years cohabitation and never a cross word.

It was no more difficult for me than for the others. My bottom was unpinched.My skirts left to themselves.

I tried to start a Women's Bar Association in about 1967 because the Bar Council had posted a notice in all the robing rooms stating that women should not wear mini skirts! They rarely did and the whole thing was outrageous. About thirty women turned up to a meeting. Before that Elizabeth Lane had sent for me and lectured me saying that we were barristers like the men and should not try separating ourselves. Those at my meeting agreed.

My practice was pretty wide, but mainly divorce and some crime.

In 1977 I was invited to be the first woman Chairman of Industrial Tribunals. In retrospect it was a mistake. I had applied for silk the previous year and should have persevered. But I remained in the job until 1991. The women's and equal rights movements caught me up and in some ways left me behind.

Of my generation there were many man unsung success stories ...Mary MacMurray, Pat Coles, Audrey Frisby, Hazel Counsell, Nina Collins (Lowry), Jean Henderson, Morgan Gibbon and many more most of whom went on the Bench or took silk or just stayed on in practice...

May the next hundred years be as joyful as despite the lack of evidence in support, the first fifty plus were.

Thank you.

Across the Atlantic, women were called ‘honey’

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

Women in Trousers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Woman In Chambers

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

Senior Clerk opposition to women for lack of lavatories

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

Jobs For The Boys

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

Planned parenthood

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

Redefining Success

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

The Hard Luck Stories: all true but largely historic

I was called to the Bar in 1987. The general mood then was very different. As a pupil, I remember summoning up the courage to say something to two senior male barristers who delighted in singing 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' every time I followed my pupil master out of Court. 'A private joke' I was told, as they caught each other's eyes and giggled. I despaired. Women had to prove themselves before they were taken seriously.

29 years later, the mood is very different. There are more women at the Bar. Those of ability are recognised by all, regardless of sex. If I am supposed to post a feminist rant about how we women are all patronised and passed over within the legal profession in 2016, I shall disappoint. We have now a level playing field. We had to work harder for it. That was unfair. But the only thing that risks undoing what we have achieved is the notion that we should right historic imbalances by artificially promoting lawyers because they are female. That way we revert to the days when women at the Bar were not taken seriously - on merit.

Robing room saga

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

No women toilets in chambers

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

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