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Tribute to three amazing female leaders in law

  • March 3, 2019

This week we celebrate International Women’s Day; and before the male readers give me any feedback men have their day in November.  More on that as 2019 draws to a close.

IWD isn’t something new either; it has been celebrated for well over 100 years with the first recognised event occurring in 1911.

International Women’s Day or IWD for short is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity; something that is still a challenge in many sectors.

International Women’s Day was created to help nations worldwide eliminate discrimination against women. It also focused on helping women gain full and equal participation in global development.

So, in today’s post, I want to celebrate a small handful of the amazing legal female leaders we have had the pleasure to learn from.

Let’s start with a great champion of women in law, Frances Murphy.

Frances Murphy

Sadly Frances Murphy died in 2016 after a long illness leaving behind a legacy of being one of the most outstanding corporate lawyers in the city. Always’s a great advocate that it’s not about gender; it’s about talent.

Amusingly she decided to ‘be’ a lawyer because she wanted to have a profession and be self-sufficient and looking at what was available at the time for women, law seemed a good option.

A great deal maker and problem solver, she has been an inspiration for many female lawyers. She headed up the team that worked with Abbey/Santander, the first building society ever to go through the demutualising process.

Frances Murphy was one of the City’s most prominent female deal lawyers who, in 2008 became the first female head of corporate at Slaughter and May.

While major law firms have made efforts to improve gender diversity at partner level, partner ranks have remained overwhelmingly male, which underline what an achievement this was.

Frances was active outside the profession in a range of roles, including the 30 Per Cent Club – which launched in 2010 with a goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE 100 boards.

Helena Ann Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws

Helena Ann Kennedy is a British barrister, broadcaster, and Labour member of the House of Lords. She also served as the principal of Mansfield College Oxford for over seven years retiring from the role last year to take up a new post at Sheffield’s Hallam University.

Helena is one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers. She is recognised for giving a voice to those people who have the least power — a huge champion of civil liberties and promoting human rights both in the UK and across the globe.

A workaholic lawyer, she also acted as junior counsel for child murderer Myra Hindley during the 1974 trial for plotting to escape from Holloway.

She has also written and broadcast on a wide range of issues, from medical negligence to terrorism to the rights of women and children.

Helena has used many public platforms – including the House of Lords, to which she was elevated in 1997 – to argue with passion, wit and humanity for social justice.

Helena has strong opinions: She rebels against her party whip in the House of Lords more frequently than any other Labour Peer!

Then finally let’s nip across the pond to recognise the outstanding Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth is one of only four females to be confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

She didn’t have the easiest of starts either. Her older sister died when she was a baby, and her mother, her biggest cheerleader, died shortly before Ruth graduated from high school.

She went onto University, got her degree, then became a wife and mother before she started law school at Harvard, where surprise surprise, she was one of only a handful of women in her class!

Ruth spent a considerable part of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights, winning multiple victories arguing before the Supreme Court.

It all sounds so easy when you read it here on this blog post.

However, it appears that Ruth had a challenging time being ridiculed, laughed at and put down at so many points along her journey. At one point it became so bad she decided to move into an academic role to regroup before she started her ‘fight’ again.

Ruth can teach all of us so many lessons, not least the power of tenacity.

Though she may have had to regroup on more than one occasion, she never gave up and kept coming back to complete what she wanted to do, no matter how much people conspired against her.

A point to note is that if you have a big goal, the path is unlikely to be linear. There will be twists and turns along the way, and you might need to stop for a while to regroup. However, it’s never forever; the goal doesn’t have to change though occasionally the timeline does.

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International Women’s Day – Why it’s time for women to shine in law

  • March 1, 2018

As we all know, the legal profession has historically been male dominated, perhaps more so than almost any other. However, times are changing – not just in law, but across the board – and women are now getting the same opportunities that were once almost entirely reserved for men. Theresa May is Prime Minister, Cressida Dick is the head of the Metropolitan Police, and Angela Merkel has been heading up Europe for a number of years.

Within law, things are also changing. Baroness Hale, the Supreme Court Deputy President – is expected to replace the retiring Lord Neuberger who steps down at the end of next year. She has already become the UK’s first female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and is currently the only female justice of the Supreme Court.

In addition, Lady Macur is lined up as the next Lord Chief Justice and will become England’s most senior judge when Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd also retires in 2017. And it’s likely that this won’t be the end of women being promoted to greater positions of power within the UK legal arena. We’ve written before about the rise of flexible working in law over recent years and the introduction of this way of working to the Supreme Court is likely to encourage more women to the posts. And the vacancies will be there to take, as a record six other senior judges are expected to stand down in the next two years as they approach retirement.

Flexible working


Flexible working doesn’t just appeal to women of course, but it should help to encourage more mothers of young children, for example, who may have stepped away from full time positions to care for their families. It can also help to improve diversity and therefore business performance if managed in the right way.

As well as the introduction of flexible working, equality law provisions will also come into play, specifically the clause known as ‘the tipping factor’, which allows employers to treat a candidate from an under-represented group more favourably if:

  • Both candidates are “as qualified” as each other
  • The employer selects on merit
  • And taking the action is seen as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Women in the legal profession set to rise


All three are likely to apply to the Supreme Court so it’s highly likely that we’ll see even more female professionals join Lady Macur and Baroness Hale at the top table of the legal profession. It appears that it’s not just politics where women are making their mark, but also in law too. Here’s hoping this provides an inspiration to female professionals and the legal firms that embrace diversity and we begin to see greater numbers of women make partner over the coming years.

For more insights from the team take a look at our other blog posts.

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