Women in law: celebrating the past; changing the future

Women in law: celebrating the past; changing the future

By Rachel Buchanan

Although it is 95 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 opened the gate for women to become lawyers, it wasn't until three years later in 1922 when the first women solicitors were actually admitted to the Law Society. In those days, this involved completing a running race down Chancery Lane. Carrie Morrison, Maud Crofts, Mary Pickup and Mary Sykes were the first four women admitted (Ivy Williams and Helena Normanton were the first women called to the Bar, also the same year).

Times have changed in the intervening years and now 59.1% of those admitted to the Law Society are women (latest stats from 2011). A problem still exists though; women are entering the profession in their droves but by the top echelons of the profession this percentage is no longer the case. Only around 18% of QCs and 8% of Court of Appeal judges are women and the story isn't any better across the solicitor side of the profession, with the first female CEO of a leading law firm only appointed this year. Women have come a long way in the first 95 years but more is needed.

It was only 30 years ago when women at the top of the profession were lone voices. Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk, saw a photograph of the partners of city law firm Herbert Smith (now Herbert Smith Freehills) dated 1982. They had released the photograph to celebrate their centenary but in the middle of the group of 50 or so men was a lone woman; the only visible female presence of the firm. Not dissimilar to other stories of its day, but a lonely position nonetheless. 

Without hearing and collating these individual stories, both past and present, it is difficult

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