In our fifth #JusticeWeek2023 guest blog, Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC MP reflects on how much has changed for women in the legal professions since she was Called to the Bar.
During my pupillage, I loved admin law from the start and soon realised that I wanted to be a government lawyer.
I was part of a generation of female lawyers brought up in a world where law was seen as a man’s profession. My supervisors were men. My pupil masters were men. My colleagues were men. I am grateful to them for so much, but being a woman in law was still unusual at that time.
I am pleased to say that world is disappearing rapidly. Just last week, there was a ground-breaking moment as Dame Sue Carr was appointed the next Lord Chief Justice. This marks the first time a woman has been appointed as the most senior judge in England and Wales in the role's 750-year history.
The Treasury Solicitor Susanna McGibbon (supported by three female Director Generals) at the Government Legal Department and Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office, are also flying the flag for female leaders in law.
During my 17 years in the Government Legal Department, I was one of the first to work part-time in litigation. When my children were young and I wanted more time at home, I was offered a solution in the form of a job sharing opportunity. Job sharing meant that I could continue to progress the career that I loved during a time in my life when I needed flexibility.
Sometimes I was in the front row at my children’s performances. Sometimes they cooked dinner for themselves while I was working. And that is fine.
A balancing act
My maternal grandmother, a teacher in south Wales, set a strong example and ended up with nine granddaughters who, like many of us, are doing our best to muddle through, balance priorities and family life, and support each other.
Equal access to law is assisted by equal access to careers in law. Our profession should reflect the society around us. Now at the Government Legal Department, 65 per cent of the staff are women and in the Senior Civil Service, women are taking 60 per cent of these roles. It is fantastic to see women taking the lead on vital, challenging work right at the heart of Government.
But the momentum must continue, and a big part is making sure that women – and men – are given the support they need to stay in their careers or return to them later as they juggle employment with the challenges of family life.
My job share partner and I are still in touch – a reflection of the long-standing importance of this relationship. Together, she and I were able to manage the demands of our caseloads at the same time we managed the demands of our families. The model worked brilliantly for us, and I want other women to have the same opportunity available to them. It is a benefit not just to individual families but also to our profession, which cannot afford to lose our excellent female lawyers.
In November, I spoke at The Law Society to celebrate 100 years of women solicitors. Looking at the faces in that crowd made me very proud of how far we have come. There is undoubtedly more to be done, but in my first Justice Week as Attorney General, I am proud to say the face of the profession has changed dramatically from when I was a young lawyer.
Victoria Prentis KC MP was appointed Attorney General, the chief legal adviser to the Crown, in October 2022. Victoria was Called to the Bar in 1995 and, for seventeen years, was a lawyer for the Treasury Solicitors’ Department and headed up the government’s Justice and Security team.