Angela Grahame QC: Women continue to raise the bar
We have an old scrapbook of newspaper cuttings in the records of the Faculty of Advocates, the independent body of lawyers admitted to practise as advocates in Scottish courts. One, from 1919, about the possibility of the legal profession being opened to women, catches the eye. A representative of the Faculty pointed out that by statute every member must on admission become a member of the widows’ fund.
Actuarially, in his opinion, this would be a serious matter because he could not conceive of any woman standing the strain of even a moderately large practice at the Bar without her health being affected. That would mean a greater chance of her leaving a widower, and a bigger burden on the fund. This gentleman declared the feeling of the Faculty to be that, “although they did not think women suited for the work, there was no use protesting”.
This is hysterical and, thank goodness, historical. The Faculty of today does much more to encourage women to seek membership and to make it easier to come back if they take a break from practising. We have not reached a 50:50 ratio of female to male advocates, but we have made significant improvements and continue to have equality and diversity at the top of our tick list.
What a delight it was to see one of our newest members cradling her infant son at her admission ceremony in July. I wonder what our friend from 1919 would think about her admission to the Faculty and our new baby-changing facilities.
We aim to be forward thinking but also think it is important to remember our past, so both will be to the fore as the faculty next Friday hosts an event in Parliament Hall in Edinburgh to celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers.
Speakers will include Baroness Hale of Richmond, President of the UK Supreme Court, Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, the most senior woman in Scottish legal history, and Lady Cosgrove, the first woman to be appointed a High Court judge in Scotland. Actuarially, in my opinion, far from being a burden, these amazing women have added huge value to the profession with impressive annual returns. Here’s to those who follow them and keep pushing that bar ever higher.
Angela Grahame QC is vice-dean of the Faculty of Advocates. This article first appeared in The Times.