100 years of women in the law

The profession has made great progress but there is still a long way to go to achieve full gender equality in the law, the Law Society of England and Wales said today as it celebrated one hundred years of women solicitors.

“23 December 2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which allowed women to qualify as solicitors and barristers, sit on juries and serve as magistrates,” Law Society president Simon Davis said.

“The profession has made great strides over the past hundred years – with women now making up 50.8% of practising solicitors and 62.1% of new entrants.

“However, women are still not reaching senior positions in sufficient numbers and only make up 30.1% of partners in private practice.”*

In 2018, the Law Society conducted an international survey to find out why this is the case.

Our research identified many obstacles to women’s career progression including; unconscious bias, a difficult work-life balance and networking opportunities being male focused.

“An overwhelming 91% of respondents to our 2018 survey cited flexible working as crucial to improving diversity,” said Simon Davis.**

“Alongside juggling demanding legal careers, many women are also the primary caregiver in their family – often at crucial points in their career.

“Creating a more flexible, inclusive working environment gives those with care responsibilities equal opportunities for progression and helps create a more diverse senior leadership.

“The profession has made important steps in the right direction but for real change to take root, firms across the country must put the right policies in place and work together to build a more diverse workplace for the next generation”.

Notes to editors

For interviews: contact the press office on 0207 320 5764 (out of hours 0203 189 1880)

*According to Law Society research, women now comprise 50.8% of practising solicitors, 62.1% of new entrants and 30.1% of partners in private practice. Please see our 2018 Annual Statistics Report for more information.

**Key findings from the 2018 women in law survey:
  • 74% of men and 48% of women reported progress on gender equality in the last five years
  • main barriers to career progression perceived as:
  • unconscious bias (52%); however, only 11% said unconscious bias training is consistently carried out in their organisation
  • unacceptable work/life balance demanded to reach senior levels (49%)
  • traditional networks/routes to promotion are male orientated (46%)
  • 91% of respondents said flexible working is critical to improving diversity
  • 52% work in an organisation where flexible working is in place
Find out more about women in leadership in the law and see statistics from the 2018 survey here.

Read our women in law pledge here.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Liam McCafferty | 020 8049 4028

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