Celebrating women solicitors, online divorce, Isle of Man: your letters to the editor.

Celebrating women solicitors

We write in response to the editor-in-chief’s leader in the Gazette of 14 January (‘Stand up and be quoted’). The article commented on women in the profession having less of a media presence than male lawyers. The introduction refers to a report on a league table of the top 100 stars, noting that of the 46 women included, not one had put themselves forward. It goes on to say that there has been a persistent imbalance in solicitor feedback to the Gazette, with 80% of letters being from male solicitors. 

We disagree that women are less likely to consider a media profile as important to ‘credentialise’ their status as professionals.

As the legal profession celebrates the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, we consider that it is essential to remember what progress has been made over the last 100 years. According to Law Society statistics, of the 2017/18 cohort of UK students applying to study law at undergraduate level in England and Wales, 68.8% of accepted students were female. For overseas students, 61.9% are female. When we look at the year ending 31 July 2018, 62.3% of trainees who registered with the SRA were female, 61.6% of admissions to the roll were female, and of the total number of solicitors on the roll women finally exceeded men at 50.8%. 

However, when we compare the number of women entering the profession to those at partner level, these numbers drop significantly. According to the 2017 SRA survey, women make up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners. The gap widens in larger firms (50-plus partners) where only 29% of partners are female. 

AWS London is hopeful that the number of women entering positions of seniority will continue to improve as younger lawyers make their way through the profession. However, firm culture needs to also change, embracing concepts such as agile working and shared parental leave. 

It has long been said that women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion until long after they are ready to do so. Rather than suggesting that it is women who are at fault for not putting themselves forward, perhaps firms should be doing more to encourage and support women to push themselves forward? Supporting women who do place themselves in the media spotlight has to be key. AWS London fully supports Clyde & Co’s programme to boost the media profile of their women and to support them in gaining the necessary skills to, as the leader says, ‘stand up and be quoted’. 

As well as law firms doing their share, one has to question whether the media also share a responsibility? While not entirely analogous, satirical news panel shows are under increased scrutiny to ensure that women hosts and guests equal men. 

It is important also to highlight that there are many visible, successful, female solicitors. At AWS London, we celebrate the success of all women solicitors, and have been nominating role models in the law, publishing their successes on our website and in our quarterly newsletter. We have also supported a number of women in their applications to become an honorary QC.

AWS London will continue to do what we can to encourage and support women to put themselves forward, celebrate their progress, and ensure that they are visible within the legal profession.

Association of Women Solicitors, London 

Why online divorce doesn’t yet click

To make it easier for people to do their own divorce, the government has created an online divorce system. But at what expense?

In theory, it is easy to see why an online application without the legal jargon should be welcomed. However, the online system is not as straightforward as it initially seems.

Often, confusion first arises when respondents receive a sealed two-page ‘summary’ of the petition which looks nothing like its paper counterpart, usually at least 14 pages. As a result, it is not immediately obvious that this two-page summary is indeed the formal petition. 

My experience is that this has led to yet further confusion if the petition needs to be amended – confusion not only among clients, but at the court too. It is unclear whether a summary petition can simply be amended or whether a ‘full version’ needs to be requested then amended. 

What seems to be lacking is clear guidance along the lines of ‘if this, then that’. For example, if you make a mistake in the application then you must do step one, two and three. New practice directions have been issued setting out procedures in relation to the online application. But first, practice directions are not user-friendly for the general public. Second, they have not yet been perfected. For example, PD36L, which came into force on 14 January, merely states that an amended application must be completed ‘in the manner specified by the online system’, yet the online system fails to explain how to amend it once submitted. 

If the general public and lawyers are both expected to navigate this new system, then clear, step-by-step rules need to be provided as opposed to practice directions which are geared towards lawyers.

There is clearly merit in the online system, but these kinks need to be ironed out until everyone, including those who want to amend their application, can appreciate its efficiency.

Sahil Aggarwal

Moore Blatch, Richmond, Surrey

All together now

Alasdair Darroch’s understandable plea for a uniform address of ‘Advocate’ to be adopted by barristers and solicitor-advocates (11 February) brought a wry smile to my face. The Isle of Man has a fused bar, with Isle of Man Law Society (formed by Act of Tynwald in 1859) members addressed as advocates. It works well. 

Incidentally, the Isle of Man is also not an EU member but has a relationship to allow for certain trading – which might ring a bell or two across the Irish Sea.

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