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100 Years of Women in Law

2019 Marks 100 Years of Women in Law.

In 1888, Eliza Orme was the first woman to gain a law degree. But by law she was not allowed to go on to qualify as a solicitor. Women were effectively barred from participating in the legal profession, being unable to become magistrates, jurors or solicitors.

Also, in 1913, the Law Society refused to allow four women to sit their law examinations. Those women took the case to the Court of Appeal – Bebb v The Law Society. The Court of Appeal upheld the Law Society’s decision with the Judge ruling that women were not ‘’persons’’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843.

It was only in 1919 when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act paved the way for women to become lawyers in the UK. In 1922 four women passed their examinations with first class degrees and were the first to be admitted to the role of solicitors.  Although it was an immensely significant change for women,it was still a struggle. If women did not have family who were solicitors, it was often financially impossible for them to access the profession.

It is said that in 1931 there was around 100 women who had qualified as solicitors but as of 2018 there are 92,384 (50.8%) women on the roll compared to 89,584 (49.2%) men*. This shows how far women really have come in law.

Notably, in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act made it unlawful for women or men to be treated less favourable because of their sex. And, more recently in 2010, the Equality Act came into power, in which women and men can seek legal support if they are not being treated / paid fairly.

In 2019, 78% of companies overall had a pay gap in favour men. Sadly some women are still paid less than their male colleague equivalents. The statistics show, that on average, women earn 9.1% ph. less than men*.

Although women have come a long way in law there are still changes to be made. But we should not forget those women whose work made it possible for ourselves and others to pursue our chosen careers.

At Hampson Hughes Solicitors we pride ourselves on equality and diversity. Did you know that we have more female employees within management roles? Our solicitors are also made up of more women to men.

As this year comes to a close, we sat down with two women from Hampson Hughes to talk about their reaction to the changes over the last 100 years and what attracted them to a career in law.

Niamh Wilson, Associate Solicitor:

‘’ I am ashamed to say that I probably didn’t know very much about the history of women in law until this year with the First 100 years’ ground-breaking history project charting the journey of women. It is truly humbling to see how hard women fought and paved the way for us all

I feel that there are definitely more women in leadership roles which is positive and inspiring. There is also definitely more awareness of the need for a work/life balance especially for working parents.

I identified a career in law as I liked working with words, logic and business. It is a fast-paced environment and does come with a certain prestige. I most enjoy working at Hampson Hughes because I have a wider exposure of job functions and work on a range of projects so I am continuously learning and with a varied workload it keeps it interesting and fulfilling! There is also a strong commitment to nurturing and developing staff so I really enjoy the mentoring side of things. Finally as a working mum, the firm allows me to fit my life around work and what I need to do to help navigate that all important work/life balance’’.

Trainee Solicitor, Lisa Kane:

‘’I have always been interested in a legal career as it provides a unique opportunity to help members of the community with a range of legal issues. Client care is at the heart of my daily role and being able to provide access to justice for victims of negligent medical treatment gives me a great sense of achievement.

In addition, my job role is highly varied with every day presenting new challenges. This has allowed me to utilise my analytical and problem-solving abilities as well as improved my time management and communication skills.

I thoroughly enjoy working at Hampson Hughes as it has given me the opportunity to work with talented and knowledgeable legal professionals which has greatly assisted my development as a solicitor. Working at the firm has also given me exposure to numerous areas of law, each of which has presented its own unique challenges and greatly improved my legal knowledge’’.



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