Speak up, ladies

Is it surprising that Alison Eddy, Irwin Mitchell’s highly rated clinical negligence head and newly anointed London managing partner, is the first woman to hold a regional managing partner role at the firm? Probably not.

How about that Allen & Overy has no female practice group heads now that global projects, energy and infrastructure chief Anne Baldock has left the firm? Not really.

That Slaughter and May corporate head Frances Murphy and DLA Piper senior partner Janet Legrand stand out as lone females at the top end of a market still dominated by men? That of 46 honorary QCs made up in the past 12 years just seven were women? That a round table discussion published in this magazine (7 May) featured not a single female participant? Nope, nope and nope.

But does it make sense to blame men for such discrepancies? Only partly. As in all walks of life, dominance in the law is self-perpetuating. White men wrote the laws that created the profession that spawned the firms that applied the laws. And so it went on. That’s psychology.

And just as psychological theory, which is based on the research of middle-class European men who studied – you guessed it – other middle class European men, has struggled to become more representative, so has the legal profession.

The reason? Women are far worse than men at shouting about their achievements and, according to research from Catalyst, an organisation that promotes inclusive workplaces for women, this, more than any other factor, has stopped them from progressing right to the top.

To explain away the continuing male dominance at the senior end of the profession with words such as ’traditional’ or ’conservative’, or to kid ourselves that the law is just painfully slow at embracing changes such as gender equality, is myopic to say the least. That the law is elitist is a given, but if even the presidency of the Oxford Union has been held by a woman for a quarter of the time since 1980 is it fair to say it’s sexist too? Possibly not.

Perhaps it’s time we ladies started to make some noise.