Making progress for women in law

Gwyneth Bebb was only the sixth woman to study law at St Hugh’s College Oxford and although she was awarded first-class marks in 1911, at that time women were not awarded degrees. Hers was a test case as her barrister sought a declaration that she was a “person” within the meaning of the Solicitors Act and was, therefore, entitled to be admitted to the preliminary examination of the Law Society.

Gwyneth was an important part of a chain of events which resulted in the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. With this act in force, four women with first class degrees were finally allowed to pass their law exams and become lawyers. The 1919 Act was passed into law on 24 December; Gwyneth immediately applied once more to join Lincoln’s Inn and was admitted as a student on 27 January 1920. She attended a banquet at the House of Commons on 8 March 1920 to celebrate the passing of the Act, where she proposed a toast.

I wonder what Gwyneth would have made of the progress which has been made in the past 100 years and in particular, our law firm, Thomson & BancksNow, 3 out of 7 of our Partnership are women (43%), a statistic that bucks the legal industry trend.

Still, whilst women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms, in 2017 women make up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners (up from only 31% in 2014). The difference is greater still in the largest firms (50 plus partners), where 29% of partners are female. We still have many strides to make towards complete equality for women in the field of law.

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