Ruth Lady Morris of Kenwood reminisces on the law profession

Published 12th September 2016

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?

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