Celebrating 100 years of women in law

Celebrating 100 years of women in law


Hello everyone, I’m delighted to introduce this short video as part of our celebrations of 100 years of women in law. Our video will highlight a diverse range of lawyers from around the globe, talking about the changes they have seen in the legal profession, the progress we have made both as a firm and also as a profession, what it has meant to them but also what more we need to do. As part of that, 100 years of women is a time for all of us to reflect on what women have been able to achieve, often against a backdrop of slow progress, not just in the UK but in many countries across the globe. It’s also an opportunity for us to consider the female legal pioneers who have paved the way for so many of us to develop as the lawyers that we are today, often often supported in the progress by male allies, who have helped them in those many years, 100 years ago to change the legislation, to create the pathway for us. Well things are certainly very different from when I first started in the law. You certainly wouldn’t have had a female chair in those days. I would often walk into meetings internally and with clients where I was only one of a handful of women and all the client expertise were base around traditional male pastimes, but things did gradually change, and we were seeing more women within the firm, and in particular within the clients. And a pivotal moment for me was when Michaela Walker and I realised when we could have an event aimed solely at women. And so what do we choose, champagne and shoe shopping, who couldn’t like that. And the clients loved it! It really set us apart and helped us to build the practice. One of my memories of being a young solicitor in Leeds was our trouser rebellion in the mid 90s Until then we couldn’t wear trousers to work, so we picked a Friday when all the partners were away at their annual conference and as we planned all the staff looked completely shocked when we turned up in our trouser suits on the Friday, but on the Monday they didn’t react at all, and the only people that were shocked were the Partners and because nobody else reacted they didn’t say anything. So after that it was okay for us all to wear trouser suits to work. When the first woman was admitted to the bar in England, there were already four Nobel prizes were awarded to women showing that clearly it’s much more difficult to become a lawyer than to get a Nobel prize. Interestingly enough, one hundred and one years after year Marie Curie got the first Nobel prize there were women being awarded Nobel prizes in half of the categories and now if you want to keep up with the Nobel prizes means that half of the new partners must be women. I think that one thing that has changed in the last 100 years is the fact that we as a profession recognize the importance of parity for women across the legal profession, and how that benefits the legal profession as a whole. I think it is important to realize though that it’s always been since the Civil Rights Act in the United States and the 1960s and 1970s and the anti-discrimination law that came along that, that women of color has really had that parity, and so that is one thing that we still need to work towards in the next 100 years. I’m looking forward to seeing us achieving that. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. 100 years ago the legal profession was very discriminatory, and now it’s far more inclusive and there are also several paths to joining the profession and obtaining a career in the law. I have learnt a lot from other female lawyers that has influenced my career. Be ambitious is one that sticks time and again. Too often we hear comments like ‘oh he has ambition, he’s driven’ to describe men. And then ‘oh she’s a bit ambitious, a bit aggressive’ when it comes to women. I think that it’s important we work together to dispel the idea that ambition is a positive trait in men, and a negative one for women. Embracing ambition, and working hard to achieve my goals has been and continues to be a very rewarding lesson for me. I also have role models who showed me that you can have ambition and can have a fulfilling career and also have a life and a family. It’s about you, and finding out what works for you and then owning it. I started my legal career with Eversheds Sutherland at the age of 18, which until recently was relatively unheard of. This is due to the fact that I don’t face the barriers that women did 100 years ago. I hope that this can inspire more and more women to enter into a legal career without the fear of barriers, and that more women can progress to senior positions. We in Newcastle actually have a female Senior Office Partner which for me as a young female aspiring lawyer is highly inspirational. I was inspired to enter a career in the law when I was choosing my career path, I was undecided which way to go and I met a fabulous female role model who worked at the law for over 20 years. I am registered blind and I met a university professor who’s also registered blind and she had worked for the European Union for over 20 years to progress disability rights legislation. Going forward for the next generation of women, I would love to see a wide diverse range of females working in the law to demonstrate that not just one type of woman can be successful in the legal profession. I am inspired by the women that I work with because they are so persistent in the pursuit of their careers. They don’t let any obstacles get in their way whether it’s implicit bias or all of the other obligations that they are faced with every day and so they just go forward with quiet strength and that is truly inspiring to me. My greatest hope for the future is that we don’t have this concept of women in the law, and we don’t talk about women lawyers, we just talk about lawyers. I work with some amazing women with great drive and determination, never taking success for granted, but achieving great things in their careers. And each of us just has to continue to make a difference. What I think would be great to achieve is that the percentage of women in management and top roles reflects the percentage of women across the firm. And I think that applies not just to law firms but to any organization. I hope to see more women in senior leadership roles in the next 100 years. In Hong Kong there are overwhelmingly more female law graduates than male, there’s a suggestion that this is because English is a second language for most Hong Kong students and there’s research which suggests women are better at languages than men. But regardless of this more women enter the legal profession than men, yet when they get into leadership roles there are still significantly more men than women. I believe that this is changing and I hope in the next 100 years it will have changed. What I wanted to talk about is really the entrepreneurial nature of law firms and I really believe that in the law firm environment it really does allow you to basically decide what you want your career to be, how you want to pursue it and so I really think that women can take advantage of that and I think law firms are making it much easier to do that today. So, very excited for what we have in the next 100 years. I’ve joined the legal profession at a time where there are a number of women in a lot of different roles who are inspiring the future generation of lawyers but what I would like to see is more diversity at all levels and in all areas of the profession. From my experience as one of the first two female partners with Eversheds Sutherland in the Middle East, my message to my fellow female lawyers is as follows, do not let anyone make you feel apologetic about being a woman, believe in your capabilities, set your own priorities, and approach your career as the qualified professional you are. It is really a matter of mindset and a matter of choice. Your choice.

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