{In Her Own Words} The Lawyer

Kirsty of A Safe Mooring is a lawyer who had a beautiful wedding on a beautiful beach. Oh, and she reads Penny Vincenzi novels. So therefore I love her.

Before I start, let me tell you a little story. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

A French Fancy wobbles dangerously on my palm as I attempt to peel off its paper case using the fingers of only one hand. My other hand is struggling to find a way of holding the paper-thin floral teacup that won’t result in third-degree burns. The tea itself is extra strong, to counteract the soporific combination of the gas fire pummelling me with heat from across the living room and the rambling conversation being conducted by my granny and Jimmy (her neighbour and, I am beginning to suspect, erstwhile suitor). I have just popped in to say hello. I am beginning to regret it.

Having comprehensively discussed their respective ailments, the state of the garden, and the list of mutual acquaintances who have recently shuffled off this mortal coil, they turn inevitably to the Grandchildren Olympics. Jimmy seems impressed when he hears my brother is in a band. He asks whether they have a record. “No, wait, that’s not what they call it these days, is it? Do they have one of those – what is it? A tape, do they have a tape?” (it’s 2007).

Bless him, I think, as I finally liberate the French Fancy from its paper and cram it triumphantly down my throat. Naturally, Jimmy chooses this exact moment to ask what I am doing with myself these days.

“I’m *nom nom* excuse me *swallow* I’m actually training to be a lawyer.”

Jimmy’s whiskery white eyebrows shoot up towards his bald, freckled scalp. His face stretches into an expression of incredulity and sheer disbelief.

“A lawyer?!?”

(By way of background, I am 23 at this point. And blonde. And, significantly, of the female persuasion. He is in his 80s, most definitely male and what can only be described as “old school”. I can see that he is unsure whether I am being serious.)

I feel, inexplicably, the need to downplay it, to justify his response. “Well, I’m not qualified yet, I’ve really only just started,” I splutter. ”And, I mean, who knows if I’ll enjoy it? I probably won’t do it forever, I can always do something different, you know, if I don’t like it.”

His face relaxes back into its soft, leathery folds and he nods, sagely. Order has been restored.

“Yes, yes, you could always do something different,” he muses. “Like flower arranging?”

Now, it’s easy to dismiss this as the ramblings of a daft old man. Irrelevant, outdated, unimportant. And, in truth, there are probably few people below the age of 80 who would laugh at the idea of a woman being a lawyer in the UK these days. No, sexism today is far more sly than that.

When my mother went to university in the late 60s (the first in her family to do so), out of two hundred first-year law students she was one of only a dozen or so women. Intimidated, she gave up law after a year to pursue a much more ladylike arts degree. Her friend, who my mum describes as one of the cleverest people she has ever had the privilege to know, persevered and achieved a first-class law degree. Shortly after graduation she married a fellow law student. He became a judge; she became a housewife.

In contrast, when I graduated from my law degree in 2005, the graduation ceremony was dominated by bright young women; long hair flowing over black-robed shoulders, stiletto heels clicking across ancient floors. In seminars and lectures, the ratio of women to men was around 4 to 1. There was an overwhleming impression that things were finally changing; the traditionally male-dominated legal profession was being cracked wide open (of course, the profile of your average law student is still overwhelmingly white and middle-class, but that’s a rant story for another day).

And yet. In my experience, the intake of trainee lawyers in many legal firms is still 50:50 women to men. The ratio among senior lawyers is far worse, and change, if it is happening at all, is happening at a glacial pace.

Even if we forget the numbers – if we put these persistent imbalances down to women preferring other professions or areas of law that are perceived to be less “macho”, taking maternity leave, choosing to work part-time – even if we swallow these tired old arguments, there is still the question of perception and attitude.

Some examples. A (female) friend being told by a (male) partner, in a formal appraisal, that she had “lost her sparkle”. A client complimenting a male partner, after successful completion of a transaction, on building “a team of gorgeous women” (er, how is that relevant?). The list goes on, but, you know, I don’t really want to get sacked, so I’ll stop there.

Obviously, the point I am trying to make here isn’t one of lawyering versus floristry. Florists kick ass. I have even dabbled in a bit of flower arranging myself: it was my Saturday job at school and, more recently, I put together all the table arrangements for our wedding. In a way, Jimmy was spot on - I suspect that spending your days creating something beautiful would be significantly more fulfilling and worthwhile than advising companies on how to exploit the law for a living.

It’s an issue of choice. Women should have the right to choose any profession they wish, be it florist or lawyer, nurse or engineer. Once in their chosen profession, they should be evaluated and judged on their performance alone. It’s easy to imagine that sexism in supposedly forward-thinking countries like ours is obsolete, but the figures tell a different tale.

Having said all that, I am lucky enough to live in a country where access to higher education and employment is ostensibly open to everyone, equally. At this very moment, millions of women across the world are living under violent regimes that are ideologically opposed to women entering the workplace at all, or they are struggling to survive in conditions of heartbreaking poverty where being told they’ve lost their sparkle is frankly the least of their worries.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I will be reflecting not on how far we in the UK still have to go, but on how far we have come. Instead of worrying about the hurdles that I may face as a woman in a traditionally masculine profession, I will think about my sisters around the globe who tackle, with grace and strength of character, unimaginable hurdles every day just to survive.

I might even buy myself some flowers, something cheery and colourful. Every time they catch my eye, I will think of those women, and I will remind myself to be grateful.

But tomorrow, the fight will go on.
Photo 2: by family and friends
Photo 3: by family and friends
Photo 4: Aubrey Wade via 
Oxfam Unwrapped
In Her Own Words: In Celebration of International Women’s Day 2011” was created to share and celebrate the experiences of women from many walks of life. All day Tuesday, March 8th Any Other Wedding and One Cat Per Person will feature posts written by a collective of intelligent, passionate and opinionated women bloggers from the United States and the United Kingdom. The conversation begins here, but it does not have to end here. We encourage you to comment and create dialogue as well as visit their respective blogs. Be sure to stop by Any Other Wedding and One Cat Per Person throughout the day to read all of the posts in the series. For more information about International Women’s Day, visit http://www.internationalwomensday.com/

Banner: Joshua Gomby

Categories: International Women's Day
17 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Dear Kirsty, you are awesome, and this post is so right on. Love, Lauren

  2. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Ladies, this is ace!

    I was speaking to a my boy's friends' mum recently and she asked me what I did. Me "I work for a charity" (I'm fundraising manager fo an international charity) Her "Oh, do you do the typing?".

  3. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This a such a beautifully constructed piece. I absolutely agree: sexism is much more passive aggressive these days and there is still a struggle ahead. But if we look at how far we have come I can see that there is still changes ahead.

  4. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I love how you say you're going to focus on how far we have come here in UK-as you mentioned regarding your Mum, not so long ago EVERY man under 80 would have balked at the idea of a female lawyer.

    Who says you can't be a florist AND a lawyer, anyway! You're evidently super-skilled at both and a real inspiration.


  5. Posted March 8, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I still have some clients who won't see me/demand to see a man/refuse to accept my advice in a meeting because I'm a female lawyer.

    They're not all men either. One (older) lady flat out refused to see me because I was female.

  6. Posted March 8, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Generally speaking though, any issues I faced getting a training contract/finding a job were less because I was female and more because I didn't have a first from Oxbridge.

  7. Posted March 8, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  8. Posted March 8, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    wonderful post – the same can be said for doctors too. The ceiling is just higher, but still there

  9. Posted March 8, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    What a great post. If you ever decide to give up law and take up novel writing i will definitely read your books- you have a great way with words!

  10. Posted March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Amen to everything you just said. Particularly the last three paragraphs. In the UK we do still have some way to go but we're so, so lucky compared with millions of women across the globe.

  11. Posted March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Great post! The male-dominated arenas of the working world are often times daunting, However, they are NOT insurmountable!

  12. Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Such a well-written, fascinating post. I haven't had such issues being a teacher in the female dominated world of primary school teaching. {If anything, men are balked at when they say they are primary school teachers and asked 'So are you the PE teacher then?'} Thanks for sharing.

  13. Posted March 8, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic post! I think there's a lot to be said about the way in which women tend to downplay their accomplishments. I wonder how much advancement we could make in male-dominated workplaces by simply taking credit when it's due?

  14. Anna K
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    This leaves me feeling so conflicted, both of how much has been achieved but also of outrage that this sly sexism (great phrase, this has stayed with me all day) is so apparent everywhere. I work in the civil service so I don't see it…I carry on blindly through my working life assuming everyone gets equal ops…but it makes my blood boil that this goes on in other places of work. Should we temper our outrage at that just because we have it so much better than other countries? I don't know. But it's making me think. And that is the point, right? Amazing post, Kirsty.

  15. Posted March 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all so much for your lovely comments! So proud to have been part of this amazing project.

    Peacock Feathers – you're completely right, of course – I think perceptions of class and intellectual elitism are holding back the legal profession as much as if not more than gender inequalities, at least at entrance level (seems like gender is still a huge factor in limiting career progression once you're in, though). Still so far to go…

    Elizabeth (Bridal Musings) – funnily enough my husband trained as a primary teacher so he has experienced the same thing from the other side of the coin (e.g. "Oh, you work with kids – are you gay?"). I guess gender stereotypes work both ways.

    PointyPix – maybe I could start writing novels about a flower-arranging lawyer? Or a crime-stopping florist? Hmm, so many options…

  16. Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Lovely, balanced post. You're so right that we should stop and appreciate how far we've come, but not fool ourselves we have come anywhere near far enough.

  17. Posted March 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Quite a lot of women end up in areas of the profession which are (often) less well paid perhaps because they are more suited to be done in conjunction with having a family/work-life balance. Working in a high street firm for example is less stressful than magic circle. Of course it is possible to do both (?) but many women choose not to/find it hard to get promoted into those sorts of positions.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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