Last year marked the centenary of votes for women – this year marks a different centenary: it is 100 years since women were admitted to the law profession. Although Eliza Orme became the first woman to gain a law degree in 1888 it was not until 1919, an astounding 31 years later, that women were permitted to take any part in the legal profession as solicitors, barristers or jurors, when the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act made a dent in the legal glass ceiling and finally allowed women to call themselves lawyers.
Sadly, the 1919 Act did not completely liberate women as they remained barred from the foreign and diplomatic services, but the new law paved the way for many of the achievements of women that are celebrated today – the professional success of Baroness Hale, the first female president of the Supreme Court, stands testament to the progress of women during the last 100 years.
According to Law Society statistics, of all the new professionals who were admitted to the roll of solicitors in the year ending July 2018, 61.6 per cent were female and, looking at the total number of qualified solicitors across the UK, for the first time the proportion of women ever so slightly tips the scales at 50.8 per cent.
Whilst we can celebrate the progress of women during the last century, the path is not completely clear: the disparity in the number of female law firm partners compared with their male counterparts cannot be ignored. But it is clear is that, as the imbalance itself is met by more ambitious and determined people, the path becomes more easily trod and the legal profession itself adapts and grows.
I am proud to say that here at George Ide LLP nearly three quarters of our qualified solicitors are women; the firm appointed its first female partner, Ursula Watt, in 1988 and since then more women have followed Ursula into senior roles. Our Real Estate and Business Services Department is currently an all-female corporate law department, reflecting the positive and fruitful contribution that women have made to the profession during the last 100 years. For myself, with women lawyers flourishing, I look forward to being part of the profession over the coming years as it continues to evolve.
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