Women in the law

You probably know that women only got the vote 100 years ago, and that was only those women over 30 who owned property, or were married to husbands with property.

Not only could women not vote but they were not allowed to practise law. The first woman doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was given a licence to practise in 1865, but women lawyers had to wait a lot longer.

Four women took their case all the way to the Court of Appeal when the Law Society refused to let them sit exams in 1913. The Judge agreed with the Law Society and ruled that women were not ‘persons’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843.

We were finally allowed to enter the legal profession following a change in the law in 1919 and the first women passed their exams in 1922.

It was still a big struggle for us though, and only 2.7% of solicitors were women in 1967.

A third of solicitors are now women and over half of newly-qualified solicitors are women. That is certainly something to celebrate, though we are still some way behind in being appointed as Judges, and being partners in law firms. But as we approach the centenary year of women being allowed to enter the profession, I feel humbled by the struggle that so many women had, and proud that we have come so far.

You may think nothing of having a solicitor who is a woman, but that would have been something quite out of the ordinary for your parents or grandparents. That is something for us to celebrate.

Elaine Walker