A century ago today, lord chancellor Lord Birkenhead gave a speech that resonates still. A one-time opponent of women’s suffrage, Birkenhead changed his mind after women helped win the Great War and turned his fire on those who still opposed female entry to the legal profession. He declared it ‘far beyond the day when a distinction or barrier based upon sex can be maintained or defended’.
As most readers know, this year marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which received royal assent on 23 December 1919. One hundred years on, the law’s gender divide remains seemingly intractable – as the partner promotion rounds of leading firms perennially confirm.
As the Law Society publishes fresh research on how better to bridge that divide, the Gazette is enhancing our own coverage of Women in the Law though the creation of a dedicated section on our website. If you would like to contribute to the debate, highlight best practice or otherwise have your say, please contact our commissioning editor Eduardo Reyes at email@example.com.
This week’s magazine highlights another divide, as leading law firms continue to farm out elements of their operations from London to the regions. Much scepticism remains about so-called northshoring, which is often dismissed as a convenient way to pep up (sic) partner profits by exploiting localised economies where office space is cheaper and the ‘grunt’ work pays low wages. There is a kernel of truth in this, let us be frank. But as the pioneers become more established and attract imitators, something more interesting seems to be happening. Far from being career graveyards, new ‘solutions centres’ are evolving into test beds for process design innovation and unconventional routes into legal business.
‘The problem with low cost legal hubs is that law graduates don’t want to work in them,’ another legal publication sneered a couple of years back. Try telling that to Mark McAuley. He joined Ashurst Advance in Glasgow six years ago as a legal analyst in an eight-strong team and now – three promotions later – is operations manager in a 350-strong office.
Dig the new breed.