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Women in law – A Bar Council report

Posted by: Laurence Simons 04/08/15

A recent Bar Council report exploring the day-to-day experience of female barristers has highlighted that although there has been widespread progression on many gender issues, women are still feeling pushed towards more traditionally “female” practice areas such as family and sex crime.

The report recorded 85 women’s opinions through focus groups and written questionnaires, reaching the conclusion that the majority had seen improvement in many areas, particularly bar course and pupillage.  However, there were still a “significant number” who felt as though they had been pushed into certain areas of the sector primarily because of their gender. One respondent was quoted saying, “It was my choice to specialise in crime…it was not my choice to specialise in sex cases and my gender is a significant factor in this type of work being sent to me early in my career. Thereafter the perception develops it is your area of expertise and that attracts more work and greater speculation.”

Insights into sexism and gender bias revealed that most participants saw this as a thing of the past, existing mainly in bygone eras. However, reports revealed that women had seen their earnings slashed by up to half after they had children, which was a point of contention for many. Some respondents from the highest levels of the judiciary did report incidents of sexism, one woman even professing that upon being appointed as a judge, she was told, “You were appointed to make up the numbers”.

Despite this, numbers of females called to the bar have been rising consistently with 5,545 in 2014 compared to 3,643 in 2005 and 1,525 in 1995. This supports the report’s assertion of “the importance of female role models to support and encourage, and to demonstrate a successful career at the Bar is within reach” as one of the most important recurring themes throughout the process. So perhaps what we are left with is a progressive circle, rather than a vicious one; the more women who succeed in these areas, the more who are inspired to follow in their footsteps.

What are your experiences of gender issues?