The role of women in the legal industry has changed dramatically over the last few decades and despite incredible strides forward in terms of equality, there is still a lot that can be done in order to continue this journey. According to The Law Society, women make up over 60% of new entrants in the legal industry, yet recent studies by the SRA have shown that between 2014 and 2017, the gap between male and female partners in law firms has increased from 25% to 29%, maintaining a disproportionate representation at the most senior levels. Although there’s still work to be done, we should always celebrate our successes, particularly as we celebrate 100 years of women in Law. So, to mark the centenary of The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919 that allowed women to enter the profession, today we are celebrating five of the most inspiring women that stand out in law.
Baroness Brenda Hale
After becoming the first woman Justice of The Supreme Court in 2009 and taking up appointment in 2017 as President of The Supreme Court, Brenda Hale, is one of the many women that stand out in law. Specialising in Family and Social Welfare Law, she has worked tirelessly to protect victims of domestic violence. One of the most important legislative changes that she implemented in the UK was the Children’s Act in 1989. Since 2017 and following her example, The Supreme Court has seen significant changes. In fact, today, three out of the twelve seats are taken by powerful and inspiring women.
Described by human rights activists as “synonymous with civil rights”, Gareth Peirce has had an incredible influence in the legal industry, making her one of the most recognisable figures in the profession. She is renowned for having been involved in high profile cases like the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and Moazzam Begg and for representing controversial cases, particularly those which involve representing individuals who have been accused of acts of terrorism. Since the start of her career, she has been instrumental in changing legal history, renowned for always giving a voice to the underdog.
Margaret Owen OBE
Another remarkable example is Margaret Owen, a human rights barrister specialising in women’s rights. Margaret has always been fascinated by law and how it can affect other people, especially the most vulnerable in society, which is why she decided to study law and help women around the world. After losing her husband, she realised that in some parts of the world, widows don’t always get the right support and the law doesn’t protect them from discrimination, violence and abuse. This particular issue led her to found Widows for Peace through Democracy, a charity whose aim it is to promote the equality of women of all ages, religion and ethnicity, and to fight for their human rights.
We could say that without Carrie Morrison, it would be difficult to have so many incredible examples of inspiring women in Law. In 1922 she made history by becoming the first woman to qualify as solicitor in England and Wales and since then she has fought to defend and to represent the less fortunate in court. As a woman of “firsts”, in 1923 Carrie founded, along with other women, an association for female solicitors. This would then change its name to ‘1919 Club – The Association of Women Solicitors’ in 1969.
Dame Rose Heilbron
It was only fair to end this overview with the inspirational Rose Heilbron, one of the pioneers of opening up roles for women in Law. Some of her biggest achievements include being one of the first two women to receive a first-class honours degree in Law from Liverpool University and being the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn. Rose’s determination and talent had an incredible impact and made her stand out at a time when men were asked to serve in the war, allowing more women to take this opportunity to serve as barristers. In 1950, she caught everyone’s attention as the first woman to lead in a murder case, earning the accolade of “Woman of the Year”.
These inspiring ladies demonstrate just how far women have come in the legal industry, paving the way for others to do the same. We know that we are not at the end of the battle yet, with further progress still to be made, particularly in senior positions where we are not seeing true levels of equality. But we believe that we must celebrate our successes as we make strides towards the future, which is why we’re keen to feature some of the fantastic women in the industry. If you’d like to talk about your experience as a woman in law, contact us today on firstname.lastname@example.org