Law: The future is female

The law is no longer a male-only preserve, but it will take time to change its culture.

Solicitors have recently turned to spin doctors to try to get rid of the public perception that they are all middle-aged, male money- grubbers. But that image may already be about to undergo a radical change.

At the same time as revealing that it had retained a public relations adviser to improve the image of solicitors, the Law Society of England & Wales has also published its latest statistics on trends in the profession which show that the majority of solicitors under 30 are women.

And it is not just at the lower end of the profession that women are making their mark. If there is no challenge to their present positions, next year there will be women presidents at the head of the major professional organisations: Kamlesh Bahl at the Law Society, which deals with more than 95,000 solicitors in England and Wales; Diana Kempe, QC, will be president at the International Bar Association; and Martha Barnett at the American Bar Association. The Bar Council had its first woman as chairman in 1998 - Heather Hallett QC.

Some women have been bemused by the coverage of firsts in the legal profession. Diana Parker, who became the senior partner of Withers this month - and the first and youngest woman senior partner in a City law firm - sees the publicity surrounding her election as flattering, if misplaced. But she warned: "Apres moi le deluge."

Being first is only the beginning. An article in this month's Legal Business picks out "Forty wonder women in private practice", detailing the experiences of 40 leading women solicitors who are "spectacular performers with real client-pulling power".

Many of those women have encountered unenlightened attitudes. Frances Hughes, corporate partner at the City law firm Slaughter & May, says: "I was told years ago by one of my clients that he would fire me if I ever got married." She did get married, and the client continued to give her work, although he stipulated that there must be no children. Hughes now has a child and still works for the same client. Another partner at the same firm, a leading EU and competition lawyer, Laura Carstensen, became a partner in 1994 when she was a single parent and pregnant with her fourth child.

Not all of them want to be superwoman, but many are trying to improve matters for those coming up the ladder after them. Diana Good, a leading commercial litigation partner at Linklaters, is the first woman to be elected on to the firm's management committee.

Good set up the firm's flexible working policy for partners; Linklaters is the only firm to have such a formal policy. She says that although such schemes are not a panacea, they are a good start - "any good business should want to retain its best people and accommodate different working practices, and that applies to both men and women."

Making an impact is not restricted to the legal sphere. Judith Mayhew, an employment lawyer at City law firm Wilde Sapte and chairman of the policy and resources committee at the Corporation of the City of London, is tipped to be a likely candidate for Mayor of London. She is also director of education and training at the firm. She agrees that women are less likely to have an impact at the junior level, "but if, in five to 10 years' time, they are not becoming partners in line with the 50-50 intake, then that will obviously be an issue that will have to be looked at sooner rather than later."

Women make up 25 per cent of the Bar - where, as recently as 10 years ago, there were still sets with no women members - and 7 per cent of the silks. The barrister Josephine Hayes, former chair of the Association of Women Barristers, says that "the future of the legal profession at the lower levels is that it will go on being male unless there are radical changes in the culture and attitudes about what type of legal system we want and the qualities needed for that legal system."

Despite the latest statistics, Hayes considers that the culture can be changed only if more women solicitors get partnerships. The Bar is, she says, more problematic because chambers are more insular. Further up the ladder, a judicial appointments commission would help change the view that judges are appointed on the basis of whom they know - ie other men.

At that highest level, a recent survey by the International Bar Association showed that women are under-represented in the judiciary in all jurisdictions - fewer than 25 per cent of the world's judges are women. England and Wales lag behind the rest of Europe, with women making up less than 10 per cent of the judiciary - Hungary and the Czech Republic have the highest numbers of women in the judiciary, with 69 per cent and 63 per cent respectively. In England, there is only one woman in the Court of Appeal, Lady Butler- Sloss. There are seven women in the High Court, compared with 97 men.

With more women entering the profession, the statistical likelihood is that there will be more women partners, silks and judges. Anne Rafferty QC says that "the legal profession should be merit-based and gender-irrelevant, and if it isn't, it should be".

Diana Good says: "It will not be exclusively female, but it will be more female than it is at present - and it may be more fun if it is."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas