Ireland just made history today.
The legal profession in this country quietly passed a major landmark last December, when the number of female Irish solicitors surpassed male solicitors. According to Teri Kelly, Law Society of Ireland’s Director of Representation and Member Services, this may be this first time such a gender balance has occurred in the legal profession, anywhere. She wrote in the Law Society’s Gazette, “To our knowledge, this is the first time a female majority has existed in any legal profession anywhere in the world.”
At the close of 2014 there were 4,623 female practicing solicitors and exactly 4,609 male practicing solicitors. This is an amazing piece of news when one considers that it was only 92 years ago when the first woman solictor was admitted to the profession in this country. Mary Dorothea Heron, Kelly writes, continued to work at her uncle’s Belfast firm until 1946. While the numbers of women in law did slowly increase over the decades, it wasn’t until the 1990s that women started to practice in droves. (We suspect Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife has inspired many a CAO application these past few years…)
While Director General of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, doesn’t see this historic gender balance effecting much change (Lady Justice is blind after all), he does see plenty to be proud about. “Within 90-odd years, women have moved from being excluded from our profession to a point of perfect equality,” he said in the Gazette.
The legal profession’s gender balance is now better than that of accountancy and medicine. What is it about the job of a solictor that appeals to women? “Being a solicitor is all about helping people so I think that really appeals to women when they’re choosing a career. It’s also a profession that can take you absolutely anywhere within any industry,” explains Kelly. “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 practitioners work in a huge range of practice areas. The options for solicitors are truly endless and that appeals to young women.”
The upper echelons of Irish society are experiencing an empowering wave at the moment. Last year Nóirín O’Sullivan was appointed the first female Garda Commissioner and Frances Fitzgerald became the third female Minister for Justice. Our Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is a woman, Susan Denham, and the Director of Public Prosecutions is Claire Loftus. And Eileen Creedon is the first woman Chief State Solicitor with Máire Whelan being the first woman Attorney General.
Lady Justice seems to be, well, a lady.
Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun
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