Who are the most influential women in UK law?
Today, women make up 48% of lawyers in the country and have, since 1990, represented 60% of newly qualified solicitors. Yet, a glance further up the law firm ladder tells a different story: at partner level, women only represent 33% of lawyers in private practice. Gender inequality is still rife in the legal profession; the glass ceiling born from inherited beliefs and traditions still balances the scales in favour of men.
Nevertheless, talented female lawyers continue to play a critical role in the UK legal landscape, instilling hope that structural barriers to progression can be navigated and that the fight is not lost. From partners in law firms to QCs and judges, the country boasts a wealth of female legal talent: it is their contributions that act as a catalyst to positive change in the profession.
Dame Linda Dobbs, DBE
Building on her long-term success as a barrister, Dame Linda Dobbs made history when she became the first non-white high court judge in 2004, a position she held until 2013. Having chaired a number of committees dedicated to improving race relations and social conduct, Dame Linda Dobbs has been named in the past as one of Britain’s most powerful black women.
Throughout her rich career, Dobbs has advised, assisted, acted and devised training in a number of areas such as human rights, corruption, fraud, criminal law, judgement writing and expert evidence. For over 20 years, Dame Linda has been involved with the training of lawyers both UK and internationally Her proudest achievement? In her words: “seeing the people I’ve mentored go on to develop their careers and lead fulfilling lives.”
Brenda Hale, Baroness of Richmond
Baroness Hale is a champion of diversity and is widely recognised as a pioneer for women in the legal profession. Having been the first woman appointed to the Law Commission in 1984, Brenda Hale once again made headlines in 2004 when she became the first woman to join the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. But she didn’t stop there: in 2009, Baroness Hale of Richmond became the first female Justice of The Supreme Court before being appointed its first female President in 2017.
Ranked in Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 as one of the top lawyers in the UK in the fields of international human rights and criminal law, Amal Clooney is inspirational to say the least. Now a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, Clooney started her life in Lebanon before fleeing her home during the violent civil war in 1982. Despite facing difficulties as a refugee in the UK, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Law from St Hugh’s College, Oxford in 2000 and went on to complete a Masters of Law (LLM). From former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Amal Clooney has represented a raft of high profile clients and harnessed her expertise to advocate for the cases of victims of human rights violations, unfair trials and war crimes.
Upon entering the legal profession, Funke Abimbola was told she was “too competitive for a black woman. 15 years later, Abimbola heads up the UK & Ireland legal team of Roche, the world’s largest biotech company. As the most senior black lawyer in the pharmaceutical industry and a single mother, she has consistently fought to remove the barriers that prevent progression for female lawyers and received recognition through multiple awards such as Career Woman of the Year and Most innovative European in-house lawyer. In 2017, Abimboma – who is also the founder of the International Women Leader in Life Sciences Network – was conferred an MBE because of her numerous contribution to “help diversify the legal profession”.