Exactly 100 years ago, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed, removing the legal barrier to women working as lawyers simply on the grounds of their gender.
The Act was nothing less than transformational, paving the way and – importantly – formally recognising for the first time the equal right of women to study and practise law alongside their male counterparts.
To mark this historic milestone and as part of a year-long programme of activity nationally, leading commercial law firm Hill Dickinson hosted a celebration at the end of September for all of its North West based employees.
Over 200 employees from across the firm’s three North West offices in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, attended the event at popular venue One Fine Day, in Liverpool, where chief executive Peter Jackson made the welcoming speech.
Peter Jackson said it was right and important for the firm to acknowledge the immense contribution that women had made to the legal profession since 1919 and continue to do so today.
He said: ‘We at Hill Dickinson work hard to ensure we promote women at partner level and in senior leadership roles. We recognise that while women are now entering the law in equal or greater numbers than men, there are often additional barriers to them staying in the profession, so we have adopted, and actively promote, a wide range of polices and workplace practices that aim to take account of the need, for example, to work more flexibly.
‘As a firm, we strive to be, and continually work towards being, a first choice employer whose people at all levels are proud to work for us. We are also committed to the aim of doubling the number of senior women we employ by 2024, whether as partners or in any of the multiple senior management roles across our firm that that keep the wheels going round.’
Commenting on the firm’s celebration event, he said: ‘In celebrating the first 100 years of women in law, we are publicly thanking the many inspirational women, past and present, who have chosen to build a career with Hill Dickinson, but equally, we are pinning our colours to the mast and committing to do more. We want the next generation of female lawyers to choose to train with Hill Dickinson because they know we are an employer that is committed to supporting women at all levels in reaching their future potential.’
One of the first ten women to qualify as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales in 1923 was Edith Berthen, who joined Hill Dickinson in 1927 and acted as a pioneer for women in the profession.
The legacy of Edith and other early pioneers like her is evident today: between 1922 and 1930, only 101 women qualified as lawyers. By comparison, latest statistics for 2017-18, show 6,478 solicitors admitted to the roll, of which 61.6% were women – a staggering and welcome increase.