Did you know in 1888 Eliza Orme was the first woman to gain a law degree? Or that it was only in 1919 when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act came into force that four women with first class degrees from Cambridge were allowed to pass their law exams and become lawyers?
The passing of the Act on 23rd December 1919, allowed determined, intelligent, and inspirational women to seize the opportunity to qualify and practice as solicitors and barristers. They did, with both hands! The First 100 Years project celebrates and remembers the pioneering women of the legal profession from 1919 to the present day. In celebration and pride men @2BedfordRow reflect on their good fortune to be inspired in their working legal lives by women.
Jim Sturman QC 2 Bedford Row
Two of the women I most admire from my time at the bar are Lady Justice Rafferty and, closer to home, Christine Agnew QC. Lady Justice Rafferty was an outstanding defence practitioner and built that practice whilst raising a family at a time when some clerks weren’t very sympathetic to periods of time off. She was charismatic, steely and determined but always charming, courteous and willing to help younger colleagues. She hasn’t changed a jot on the bench, she is tough when required but displays genuine empathy and mercy in the right case. A top Judge and promoted entirely on her own merit. Christine is so similar; she has built a fantastic practice whilst juggling a family and coping with all that life has thrown at her. She usually does so with a self-deprecating smile on her face. Attitudes towards women have changed dramatically for the better since I began to practice 36 years ago, and both Ann and Christine (and there are many, many more) demonstrate that you should never, ever, underestimate women at the bar.
Mark Milliken-Smith QC 2 Bedford Row
Some 40-odd years ago, I sat down with my wonderful God-mum one holiday night, she had always been there throughout my childhood providing warmth, compassion and constancy amidst familial ups and downs. Like many of my generation I was the first in my family to be able to go to university, and aged 16 this was the first sensible discussion about what I might do beyond that.
We talked long and late and, amidst an emotional moment or two, spoke about “what barristers do”. Her personal experience of barristers arose from the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of her eldest son, who was just 9. Of course, I can’t and won’t share the details here, but my recollection today remains vivid. What she courageously trusted me with that night set my course, and for that and so very much more I shall always be thankful.
Charles Langley 2 Bedford Row
I have been lucky enough to have been inspired by many women during my career but the one who stands out is, without doubt, my mother. Without her encouragement I would not be at the bar. As a recent history graduate with some ambition but little drive, it was my mother who lifted me up by the scruff of my neck and helped me with applications for the right courses and to join an Inn of Court. She has been a source of constant motivation throughout my career ever since, especially after all those chambers made the wrong tenancy decisions. She is a fervent believer in the fairness of the justice system. Of my clients she still says to me “always do your best for them” every time I see her.
My exposure to inspirational women at the Bar started on the first day of my pupillage at 2 Bedford Row. My pupil master shared a room in chambers with three extremely talented women barristers (Agnew, McGowan and Pople) – all were to later take silk and one of them is now on the High Court bench. As a 24 year old, who was as green as a gooseberry, these women inspired and terrified me in equal measure! But however busy they undoubtedly were, they always had the time to give me the advice I so regularly sought and needed. As a tenant, I was lucky enough to have been led by two of them from which I learnt a lot and for which I hope some has rubbed off on me as an advocate.
Two significant events in my career have been made more special by the words and encouragement of women leaders at the Bar and the judiciary. On being called to the Bar in Northern Ireland, it was my wonderful father-in-law’s former pupil and Treasurer of the Inn of Court, Noelle McGrenera QC, who formally welcomed me. And when I was sworn in as a Recorder, I was bowled over by the words of wisdom and encouragement from Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb.
Finally, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing women every day – my wife and two daughters. They get me up in the morning – literally and metaphorically – and make this job much easier to do.
Nick Bonehill 2 Bedford Row
When I was asked to write about inspiring women in law, I immediately thought that I should write about the first female Judge I appeared before or the first female Silk I saw cross examine. All more than worthy contenders but then I realised something. From the outset of my career I’ve been surrounded by inspiring and pioneering women in criminal law.
Before pupillage I worked as police station rep for an East End criminal firm. I sat in an office with 5 women solicitors all of whom really gave me my grounding and foundations in this career. As my practice developed, I worked day in day out at the Magistrate’s Court with female solicitors, clerks and counsel and developed my trade. My first Crown Court trial was before Ms Recorder Cheema (a 3 hour trial in Snaresbrook) and she went on to do great things.
My first Junior Brief was prosecuted and defended by female silks – still the best case I’ve ever done. As I look through my diary, I would conservatively estimate that 75% of my instructions come from female solicitors. Perhaps I’m an anomaly? I seriously doubt that I am, perhaps we just don’t ever actually think about it. And isn’t that exactly how things should be? So Farhana, Kerri, Laura, Michelle, Emma, Charlotte, Alex, Claire, Penny, Leah, Jo and the hundreds of others over the last 14 years – thankyou I wouldn’t have known it or had it any other way.
Rhys Rosser 2 Bedford Row
During marshalling with the now retired HHJ Worsley QC at The Old Bailey some years ago, I was observing the first murder trial I ever saw. It was a case where the Defendant was effectively putting the Crown to proof, having killed his partner under the misapprehension she was having an affair. In the case, the Defendant was represented by then Bobbie Cheema QC. It was the first time I had seen a Silk on their feet and the resolute and unwavering style of advocacy was such that it really heightened my desire to come to the bar. Some years later I lodged one of my first applications for leave, it was returned and had been considered by the now Mrs Justice Cheema QC. Inevitably it was refused, but it was highly satisfying to see the journey that both of us had been on over the last 5 years – of course hers far more impressive than mine.
Support and Donations:
If you are inspired by women in the law or would simply like to support The First 100 Years project then donate here:
Make a donation through Paypal
Alternatively, buy the excellent book “First 100 years of Women in the Law” for Just £15.00 from their website.
News | 23 Dec 19