Famous Women in Law
The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 swept away some of the gender barriers and in May 1922, Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the English bar. She never practised but she was the first woman to teach law at a British university.
Williams was soon followed to the bar by Helena Normanton who practised. Normanton was also the first woman to lead a High Court case, one of the first two women appointed as King’s Counsel, and – in an entire career that broke new grounds – in 1925, she became the first woman to conduct a case in the USA, and in 1948 she was the first woman to lead the case for the prosecution in an English murder trial. She campaigned for the reform of divorce law, was a pacifist and was the first married British woman to have a British passport in her birth surname.
To the Supreme Court and ECHROther milestones took longer. In 1945, Sybil Campbell became the first woman promoted to the post of full-time judge in England and was the only holder of that title until her retirement in 1961. Her early career was colourful: she led investigations into sweatshops and – upon her parent’s insistence – carried a gun to work although unknown to them, she never loaded it with bullets.
Commercial lawyersFast forward to the present day and read about the likes of Jessica Adams – partner at Macfarlanes. She’s featured in The Lawyer’s “Female Private Equity Stars”, Legal Business’s “Female Deal Stars” and works on intricate group restructurings and M& A acquisitions and disposals for a range of clients within private equity, asset management and global corporations. Another great success is investigations and white-collar lawyer Christine Braamskamp who is Co-chair of Practice for Jenner & Block. Christine is a top-tier lawyer with massive experience in compliance law relating to sanctions, whistleblowing, corruption and anti-money laundering advice. Having practised in the Netherlands and now living in London, she’s proof that a legal career can be truly international.
In-house counselIn terms of in-house lawyers, inspiration comes in the form of Dr. Funke Abimbola and Fiona Dormandy.
According to Women in Law organisation First Hundred Years, at the start of her legal career, Funke Abimbola was told she was “too competitive for a black woman”. Since then, she has become the most senior black lawyer in the pharmaceutical industry, growing her career while being a single mother. She led the UK & Ireland legal team of biotech giant Roche, is now Global General Counsel at Cycle Pharmaceuticals, is the founder of the International Women Leader in Life Sciences Network, winner of Career Woman of the Year and Most innovative European in-house lawyer and is a TEDx speaker. She was awarded the MBE for services in helping to diversify the legal profession.
Celebrity lawyersSome of the best-known women in public life are or have been lawyers. Margaret Thatcher was a barrister before becoming a politician. For a while, Cherie Blair was one of the UK’s most prominent human rights lawyers. More recently, Sharmishta “Shami” Chakrabarti, Baroness Chakrabarti, was described in The Times as “probably the most effective public affairs lobbyist of the past 20 years”. She was the director of civil and human rights group Liberty before becoming a senior politician in the Labour Party.
Amal Clooney is one of the highest profile lawyers in the UK and is its special envoy on media freedom. A refugee from Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s, Amal has been involved in some of the world’s most notable civil and human rights actions and is currently pushing the UN to start officially investigating the targeted state killings of human rights defenders and journalists such as Jamal Khashoggi.