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In the News

Women in the Legal Profession

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

12th January 2023

December 2022 marked the 100 year anniversary of the first woman, Carrie Morrison, being admitted as a solicitor of England and Wales, following the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which allowed women to train as solicitors and be on an equal footing to men. She married a fellow solicitor and spent much of her career providing pro bono advice in London’s East End.

So how has the profession progressed since then in opening up to all and becoming more diverse?

Solicitors

Data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority gathered in 2021 shows that whilst women make up the majority of the solicitors in England and Wales, comprising of 61%, only 35% of partners are female, with even less being equity partners, at around a quarter. This raises concerns that women are still not breaking through the glass celling and are being underrepresented at senior levels. In contrast, a third of all male solicitors are partners.

Food for thought: Is this potentially due to women having maternity leave falling at the same time as reaching partner potential and missing out on this opportunity?

Discussion point: What other reasons could there be for this gender disparity?

Barristers

At the bar around 39% of barristers are female, but only 18% make up the most senior role of King’s Counsel, showing an underrepresentation of women at the most senior level in this profession in the legal system also.

Discussion point: Why may these figures remain underrepresented, particularly when considering the statistics for the number of women solicitors?

Legal Executives

Women seem to be overrepresented as Legal Executives, with over three quarters of Legal Executives being female and this follows through to partnership level, with around 70% being female.

Discussion point: Why may the Legal Executive role and route be more appealing to women?

Further research points:

  • Statistics for those with a disability in the profession or those from BAME backgrounds could also be analysed, as well as sexual orientation.
  • Judicial diversity statistics, considering career progression from the different legal professional routes to judicial appointment and the impact this has on judicial diversity.
  • You could also research diversity from the perspective of lay people in the criminal justice system, researching statistics as to composition of magistrates for example by reference to age, sex and ethnicity.

Further Reading: Solicitor Regulation Authority. How diverse is the solicitor profession? 29 April 2022. Available at: https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/equ...

Further reading: Ministry of Justice. Diversity of the judiciary: Legal professions, new appointments and current post-holders - 2022 Statistics. 14 July 2022. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/....

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

Gemma is an experienced Law teacher and examiner.

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