On Thursday 19th July, First 100 Years celebrated its annual summer party which this year was hosted by Mishcon de Reya. Guests were treated to drinks and canapes, alongside the chance to reflect upon the progress made by women in the legal profession.
The highlight of the evening was hearing Baroness Hale as our keynote speaker. Discussing the history of women in law over the last hundred years, Hale spoke of the achievements of the pioneering women who went before her, including Sybil Campbell, who was the first woman to be appointed to the full-time professional judiciary in 1945 when she became a stipendiary magistrate. Dorothy Knight Dix, Edith Hesling and Rose Heilbron were among the other women who Hale commemorated in her speech.
However, Hale remarked that “most of the progress that women have made in this profession is in my professional lifetime”. When she arrived at Cambridge to read law in 1963, it had only been 15 years since women had been allowed to graduate with degrees from Cambridge. She recalled undertaking her pupillage with a Manchester barrister who didn’t approve of women at the bar. While his wife was a doctor, which he claimed was appropriate as it was a ‘caring’ profession, women were unsuited to the Bar as it was a ‘fighting’ profession.
Lady Hale spoke of the great leaps forward which were made in the 1990s, including the first female High Court judges assigned to the Queen’s Bench and Chancery division. Hale herself was appointed the first female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 2004. Despite this progress, there is still a long way to go until the courts are truly diverse, in terms of socio-economic background, ethnicity, gender and career background. “I want a legal and judicial profession that practices the quality it preaches”, she said. She advised young people starting out today not to play it safe, but to take risks and to give it their all.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years