Women in law: A reminder of the stats
While Chloe Gallagher celebrates the trailblazing female role models the profession has to offer, parity is far from the horizon
We have come a long way since the 1960s, when screw lids revolutionised the world for women, who were finally able to open jars and bottles without the assistance of men. Now we even have shining examples of the progress
that women have made in the world of law.
Baroness Hale was one of only six women on her degree course. She gained a starred first and finished top of her class. Hale later became the youngest person and first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission. In 1999 she was the second female to be promoted to the Court of Appeal and in 2004 made history by becoming the first and only female in the House of Lords.
Another example is Pragna Patel, a solicitor and director
and founding member of the Southall Black Sisters, an award-winning organisation
set up to address the needs
of black and minority women experiencing gender violence. Her work was pivotal in campaigning for the release
of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who was convicted of the murder of
her violent husband. Patel
was listed in the Guardian's
'Top 100 women: activists and campaigners'.
Then there is Baroness Patricia Scotland, who, despite being warned by a lecturer that succeeding as a lawyer might be impossible for a black woman, persevered and went on to have an extremely successful career. She made history at 35, when she became the first black woman to be appointed Queen's Counsel. She later became the first woman minister of state for criminal justice and law reform and was the only woman to be appointed attorney general.
In today's society, the concept of gender equality is a key part of life and can be taken for granted by some. Unbelievably, it was only as recently as 1922 that the first woman was admitted to the roll of solicitors in England and Wales. Although women have arguably come a long way, we must still ask the pertinent question: have things completely changed in the
world of law?
A review of the Law Society statistics from 2014 certainly paints a positive picture. Significant numbers of women are choosing to enter careers
in law today. In 2014, women made up:
64.8 per cent of the students accepted on to university law degree courses;
60.8 per cent of successful training contract applicants; and
60 per cent of newly qualified solicitors admitted to the roll.
Given the positive numbers reflected by these statistics,
one would expect a greater representation of women at all levels. However, as it stands, this is not the reality. Shockingly, only two of the 100 plus firms surveyed by Chambers
Student in its 2014 study have
a partnership of more than
50 per cent women. Furthermore, although 48.6 per cent of trainees in Magic Circle firms
are women, only 18.8 per cent of partners are. This is even more pronounced in regional/national firms, where 64.5 per cent of trainees are women,
and only 26 per cent of partners are women.
As a result of the lack of females at the top of the profession, there are subsequently fewer role
models to inspire and encourage the next generation of legal trailblazers. Having a stronger representation of women at the top provides powerful evidence that there
is no glass ceiling, and that the firm is a place where women
can succeed to senior positions.
So, why are so many women slipping through the net?
There is obviously a number of reasons why women might not be taking partnership, including inflexible working conditions and the lack of senior female representation, which in turn deters women from applying
for these very roles. There have been suggestions that 'these things just take time'; however, this does not convince me, given that women have made up the majority of those entering the profession for
such a long period.
What next? There is still a lot of work to do in raising the numbers of women in senior roles. Establishing mentoring schemes to encourage junior women to aim for the top jobs and setting targets for firms, which focus the mind on the problem of how to redress the balance, are just two possibilities to build on the hard work that women such as Baroness Hale have already done.
While we have moved on from the image of women in
the adverts in the 1960s, we must continue to build on
this progress and ensure that women entering the profession have the support they need to achieve at the highest level.