Women in Law

Thousands of women throughout the world celebrated International Women’s Day on 8 March. Events were held by organisations, charities, educational institutions and groups to celebrate achievements and inspire women of all ages and nationalities. The first International Women’s Day was held way back in 1911 and was celebrated by over a million people in countries across Europe.

There has been a significant shift in our society’s attitude to women in the past century. It is amazing to think that women of 21 years and over were allowed to vote only after the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed in 1928. Some of our grandmothers will have been around at that time.

Society as we know it has completely transformed since the early nineteenth century, and women experience great equality in many areas of life now. Did you know that just over half of Solicitors are women these days? Although the number of female Solicitors in the legal profession has increased, we are seeing only about 28% of the top firms with women in partnership positions. This balance is gradually being addressed through networks such as Women in Law London which have formed to inspire and encourage women in practice.

The first woman Solicitor, Carrie Morrison, was admitted to the British legal profession in 1922 after four women took their examinations through the Law Society. Interestingly, these four women tried to take their exams previously in 1913 but were refused. The women took the case to court, but the Judge upheld the Law Society’s decision and ruled that women were not ‘persons’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act of 1843! After the Sex Disqualification Act in 1919, women were finally allowed to practice law. In the US, however, the first woman lawyer was admitted to the bar much earlier, in 1869.

A recent article published by Catalyst stated that 4.8% of CEOs from the S&P 500 companies in the US are women. We wonder what percentage of companies in the UK have female CEOs. Not only does ILSPA have a female CEO (Emma Stacey), but so does the Law Society (Catherine Dixon), the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (Mandie Levan) and the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (Amanda Hamilton). It seems that women are doing very well in certain areas of the legal world!

You may have guessed that Legal Secretaries are predominantly female. Only 1% of ILSPA’s Members are men, although we have noticed that the coursework produced by our male Students is often of a very high standard. Last month, two of our male Students achieved distinctions for the Legal Secretaries Diploma course. We would love to see more men choosing to become Legal Secretaries so that there is more of a balance at this end of the profession too.