It is remarkable now to think that December 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the admission of the first female solicitor in England. It had been necessary to pass legislation in 1919 to outlaw the discrimination that had prevented the admission of female solicitors until that point.
Thankfully, the legal profession has changed massively since then. Recent statistics released by UCAS reveal that over two-thirds of all law course academics in this academic year are women. On average 60% of trainees at London law firms are now women and, according to data released by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority, as of April 2022 52% of all lawyers are women. This shows significant progress in terms of opportunity. When I started at university back in 1977, only approximately one-quarter of those on the course were women.
However, whilst it appears that there is equality for women on route to qualification into the profession the same does not yet seem to be true of career progression. Only 35% of partners in law firms are women.
I am delighted to be able to say that that is not the case within Morr & Co. Whilst we did not appoint our first female solicitor until 1990 and it was not until 1995 that we appointed our first female partner, the firm has changed beyond recognition since then. It is now true that 64% of our partners are women and half of our equity partners are women. 92% of our senior associates are women.
I will be retiring at the end of next month and I am delighted that my successor as Managing Partner is Catherine Fisher who will become the first female Managing Partner in the very long history of the firm. I genuinely believe that we are a diverse and inclusive firm which selects on the grounds of ability and gives opportunity to everyone regardless of their gender.
There is clearly further work to be done within the profession. It is still more difficult for women to progress than men. Why is that? The organisers of International Women’s Day say that we must continue to “challenge gender stereo types, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias and seek out inclusion”. These are goals that we should all adopt. What would our approach be to any member of our team or a client who demonstrates clear bias and discrimination? Is there equal opportunity for progression for those that work part-time or who have taken a career break?
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is: #EmbraceEquity which challenges us to move beyond the equal allocation of resources to acknowledging that “each person has different circumstances and allocating the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome”. I am sure that we will embrace that challenge as we celebrate the women within our firm on International Women’s Day.