In a first for any legal profession in the world, female Irish solicitors now outnumber male solicitors practising in the country.
At the end of 2014, there were 4,623 female solicitors and 4,609 male solicitors. Just 92 years ago, the first woman solicitor was admitted to the profession and The Law Society said “since then the race to equality has been incredible”.
In an article for the Law Society’s Gazette this week Teri Kelly described this as a “major landmark” for the profession.
Before the first female solicitor, Mary Dorothea Heron, was admitted in 1923, there had been no law stopping women from working as lawyers, it was just accepted that women were unfit for the work anyway. However many women were already working in the profession, particularly during the First World War.
Gender balance in the realm of law and justice in Ireland has come a long way since that time.
“Women currently dominate the State’s senior appointments in law and justice. Last year saw the appointment of the first female Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, and the third female Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald,” Kelly said.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, she said the profession appeals to a lot of women because it is “all about helping people”.
It’s also a profession that can take you absolutely anywhere within any industry. As a solicitor you could work in-house for a technology firm like Google. Or you could work in family law and work to defend the rights of children. Alternatively, solicitors who choose to work as sole practioners work in a huge range of practice areas. The options for solicitors are truly endless and that appeals to young women.
She said the numbers point to a “wonderful level of equality” that has been achieved within the profession.
“Solicitors work in all areas of human life and having both male and female perspectives is both valued and respected.”
A solicitor, who wishes to remain anonymous, told TheJournal.ie, that she welcomes the increase in females in her profession, but says there are still changes to be made to make the legal profession more women-friendly.
She said she hasn’t noticed any differences between her and her male colleagues, but said divergences seem to happen further down the line.
Most partners in law firms are still men. It is still a very male-orientated workplace environment, but I do think there is a movement towards a work-life-balance.
Family life is not something that blends well with a job in the legal profession, which she says does not bother the women in their 20s now, but when they are in their thirties, they may have to re-evaluate and take a step back.
“This is frustrating as these women have worked so hard, but I hope that as the masses rise, there is more optimism for the future.”
Practical changes can be made to make work-life easier on women who have families.
“It is a very conservative workplace and technology has been so slow to come to it,” she said.
A lot of the work I do could be done from home through an external access system, but there is a culture of being at your desk, which is not always good for women. They could easily be at home putting on the dinner, and then log back in to sign something off. There is still a thing of being seen to be present, but I am not sure it will continue.