CL&J: Waiting 49 years

In November 2012, Lord Sumption observed that “The judiciary is recruited from a pool of highly educated and experienced legal practitioners. This pool is itself dominated by white males”. Coinciding with a progress report, his view was that diversity in the judiciary could take 50 years so, how was 2013 for women in the law … ?


January 2013: Specialist legal recruiter Laurence Simons released a market report that the average female lawyer is paid £51,396 less per year than the average male lawyer according to research among in-house and private practice lawyers although the pay gap was narrowing and the number of female Magic Circle partners had risen.

February 2013: News that of 84 successful applicants for appointment as Queen’s Counsel, only 14 were women and just three were not white. The number of female applicants overall fell. No research is available as to whether the fact that 12 judicial referees are needed in order to apply affects the decisions by women to seek appointment, where the vast majority of Judges who might supply those references are male.

March 2013: The Law Society of England and Wales established a Women Lawyers’ Division so that it can “engage directly with women solicitor members”.

April 2013: Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 to 1990. She was called to the Bar in 1954. Like her or not, she sat for her final examination only three months after her twins were born. To put this in perspective, according to Cherie Booth QC, when she was called to the Bar in July 1976, “women made up only 16 per cent of entrants - and this was the first year that the figure had crept into double figures”.

May 2013: Arwa Al-Hujaili became Saudi Arabia’s first female lawyer as she registered as a trainee. News reports did not disclose if she was allowed to drive to work.

June 2013: Baroness Hale of Richmond was appointed as the only female justice of the Supreme Court. She became Deputy President, following the retirement of Lord Hope.

July 2013: The Rt Hon Dame Heather Carol Hallett was not appointed as Chief Justice of England and Wales after a new system was introduced of application by essay – apparently designed to ensure equality it ended up looking like a ruse to prevent a woman getting the job. With a John Thomas in the top job, the result couldn’t have been more ironic. Statistics released the same month showed only 24.3 per cent of Judges in England and Wales are female.
A Council of Europe Report in 2012 found that only Azerbaijan and Armenia have a lower ratio. The figures are worse if you are non-white.

August 2013: Baker & McKenzie tops the list of top 50 Big law firms for women lawyers. According to www.abovethelaw.com “These law firms are considered pioneers in the field when it comes to “attracting, retaining and promoting women lawyers.” These law firms stand out as “family friendly” workplaces, while at the same time ensuring that women shine in their equity partnership ranks”. It is no coincidence that Baker & McKenzie is in the top 20 of the Chambers UK Guide rankings. Figures for judicial appointment from in-house lawyers are on the rise.

September 2013: Helen Murrell was appointed as the first woman Chief Justice of Australia.

October 2013: Nine part time High Court appointments were advertised. The Times reported that Baroness Hale of Richmond, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said: “We know we need a more diverse judiciary, especially in the higher ranks. We know there are plenty of able women and other diverse lawyers out there who could be great Judges. There are fewer barriers now than ever before. But if you don’t apply, they can’t appoint you – you have to be ‘in it to win it’. So do please apply.”

November 2013: The Rt Hon Dame Heather Carol Hallett was appointed as Vice President of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal and The Hon Dame Anna Pauffley was appointed as the senior family liaison Judge for the High Court Family Division

December 2013: for the first time in history more women were recommended for judicial appointment than men.

Just another 49 years to go then!

Felicity Gerry, Barrister at 36 Bedford Row, London, “Of Counsel” at Moynahan Law Firm, Connecticut.

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