Letter: The progress of women in the legal profession

Following an article in SLN detailing Lady Hale’s reflections on life in the legal profession for women, as part of the First 100 Years project, Sheriff Brian Kearney sheds light on an early milestone north of the border.

In your issue of 24th November 2017 you mentioned the contribution of Lady Hale to the project charting the progress of women in the legal profession over the last hundred years.

Readers may be interested to know that at the beginning of this period, Maclay Murray and Spens took on as an apprentice the woman who was to be the first woman to be admitted as a Law Agent in Scotland.

David Murray, in his short history of the firm Maclay Murray and Spens 1871 -1971, records that on 12th May 1917 Miss Madge Easton Anderson MA LLB, began her three-year apprenticeship with the firm.

By the time she had completed her apprenticeship the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919 was in force, having been enacted on 23rd December 1919. Miss Anderson applied to the Court of Session for admission as a Law Agent under the Law Agents (Scotland) Act and the question arose as to whether she could qualify since the greater part of her apprenticeship had been served before the Act, which was not expressly made retrospective, was passed.

Mr Murray narrates that Mr John Alexander Spens, one of the founders of the firm, had advised Miss Anderson to enter into an indenture as he hoped that it would not be long before the disqualification of women being admitted to the profession would be removed.

The case came before Lord Ashmore, who, in a written opinion, expressed the view that the application should be granted, but remitted the case to the Lord President.

In the event Lord President Clyde, delivering the opinion of the First Division, agreed and remitted the matter to the Lord Ordinary with direction that it should be granted. The case is reported as Anderson, Petitioner 1921 1 S.L.T. 48.


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