The 8th of March is International Women’s Day a day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. The focus for 2021 is #choosetochallenge, something that women choosing to enter the legal profession have had to do from very beginning. To mark this day, Law Training Centre has profiled just a few of the brilliant female lawyers who have pushed the boundaries of their profession, including some of the amazing women who we are proud to say are part of the Law Training Centre team.
By 1903, Ivy Williams had completed an LLB and LLD from the University of London and had also taken all the examinations for a Law degree at Oxford. Despite this, she was prevented from receiving her qualification due to the unjust regulations preventing women from matriculating and being awarded degrees at that time.
She also lived at a time when women were prohibited from being barristers. The 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. Whilst she never practised, she did become the first woman to teach law at a British university.
Williams was soon followed to the bar by Helena Normanton – who did become the first woman to practice. 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. In 1948 she became 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 ECHR
Other 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.
Extraordinary women in Law often have multiple achievements in their repertoire. Brenda Hale, for example, Baroness of Richmond, was the first woman appointed to the Law Commission in 1984, and was also the first woman to join the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. In 2009, she was the first female Justice of The Supreme Court then, finally, its first female President in 2017. She was also the first female QC to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, where she successfully argued that the UK government was in breach of the convention by failing to give parents the right to apply for contact with children who are in the care of a local authority.
In 1974, Barbara Calvert (Lady Lowry) became the first female Head of Chambers when she founded 4 Brick Court.
Fast 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 extensive 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 is proof that a legal career can be truly international.
In terms of in-house lawyers, inspiration comes in the form of Dr. Funke Abimbola. According to Women in Law organisation’s 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, and is the founder of the International Women Leader in Life Sciences Network. In addition to this, she was 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.
Some of the best-known women in public life are or have been lawyers.
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.
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.
Ayesha Vardag – founder of Ayesha Vardag Solicitors – is nicknamed the “divorce lawyer to billionaires” and is credited for helping to make London the divorce capital of the world.
Finally, Margaret Thatcher was a barrister before becoming a politician and, for a while, Cherie Blair was one of the UK’s most prominent human rights lawyers.
Law Training Centre
Law Training Centre is proud to make a tangible difference in law, with our course flexibility empowering more female learners to accelerate their education whilst also managing work and home commitments. Across our CILEx, CLC, NALP, and SQE learners 70% identify as female.
The women within Law Training Centre have shared in the experiences of our female learners, having dealt directly with the challenges that face Women in legal careers. This experience continues to drive Law Training Centre’s commitment to breaking down the barriers to a career in law. Eve Dullabh co-founder and Director of Education at the Law Training Centre, founded in 2015r. Eve completed an LLB at the University of Kent, followed by the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law, whilst training at London based Legal 500 firm. Experiencing first-hand the challenges of the associated costs and barriers to qualifying were what sparked her Law Training Centre vision.
A mother of three, Eve harnesses her personal experience to help other aspiring lawyers through her mission to break down the barriers to legal education for all. As Co-founder and Director of Education, Eve oversees Law Training Centre’s supportive learning environment, to offer wider choice and a more flexible way for individuals to access the profession.
Yasmin Hoque is one of our expert Law Tutors, and is a practising solicitor specialising in high value clinical negligence litigation. She completed her training contract with a leading City law firm and has over 12 years of legal experience. As a Law Lecturer, Yasmin also has experience of teaching law at all levels and ensures her teaching is firmly founded in the realities of legal practice. Yasmin says: “As a woman lawyer I have faced a number of barriers to my progress, some because I’m female in what has historically been a male dominated profession, whilst others have been faced by all my peers because becoming a lawyer requires sustained dedication.
“However, when faced with any barriers I have always seen them as a challenge, one I have to find a way to take down, go around or even over where necessary! As a legal tutor I ensure my learners embrace the same strategy to change their perspective and recognise that we all have it within ourselves to find the right path to success and keep to it until we reach our goals.”