Female dynasties: creating role models
Dana Denis-Smith gives an insight into how women have followed their mothers into the law over the last 100 years
A new book due to be published later this year, First:100 Years of Women in Law, aims to unearth some of the untold stories of women in the law over the past 100 years. One aspect covered in the book is the history of mothers and daughters working in the legal profession – early pioneers who have inspired their daughters, encouraging them to follow in their footsteps. It tells the story of women like Maud Crofts, born in 1889, who was the first female solicitor to hold a practising certificate. She was one of the four claimants in Bebb v Law Society  1 Ch 286, the unsuccessful legal challenge which sought to allow women to be admitted to the Law Society; and paved the way for the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which allowed women to practice the law for the first time. Crofts continued in her career while raising her two children. Her daughter Rosemary Vaughan and later, her granddaughter Mary Wynn Williams, both followed her into the legal profession, qualifying as solicitors and making her family the first three-generational family of women solicitors. One of the more recent developments covered in this book is the increasing number of women clerks.
Lucy Barbet was appointed the first woman chair of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks this year. She is the joint senior clerk at 11 Kings Bench Walk – one of only a handful of senior women clerks. There is a long tradition of sons following their fathers into clerking. With Barbet’s daughter Georgia Pilbro now working as a junior barristers’ clerk at Wilberforce Chambers, we see the first mother and daughter clerking combination – forging a new dynastic challenge to the common father and son. Having good female role models at the top of the profession is important in driving equality and progress. Girls growing up, and women starting out in their careers, want to see people like them making it to senior positions and take inspiration from seeing what other female lawyers have achieved. My own daughter, AlmaConstance who is eight years old, recently spoke to a room of lawyers about the importance of role models and the First 100 Years project. She said: “First 100 Years starts in 1919. Then, women were just starting to be allowed to work as lawyers. A long time ago, women could not work, as men kept telling them that they had to stay at home with their children. Which is just ridiculous – why would women not be allowed to work? If I was born then and I was not allowed to work, I would be absolutely sad. Especially if I wanted to be a woman like Brenda Hale, or in parliament – not just being at home to feed the children. When I grow up, I want to work and get money for the whole family. I am happy that now women are working, because some people encouraged them to work and to build their careers. For me, the big lesson of the project is that it is important for a woman not just to start a career, but to have a whole legal career. It is not enough to draw a building on a notepad – you have to build it to make it of any lifetime use. You should encourage them to work as lawyers. You should help them to have a whole career in law.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. The future of our profession will be stronger if men and women lawyers alike encourage a workforce that reflects the society it serves. If you know anything about other female legal dynasties, or have your own or another’s story to tell, the First 100 Years project would love to hear from you
Dana Denis-Smith is founder of The First 100 Years project first100years.org.uk