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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.