Female lawyers should tell judges if they cannot attend court at 9.30am because they are doing the school run, the former president of the Supreme Court has suggested.

Delivering the keynote address at a Spark 21 women in law conference, organised by the First 100 Years project, in London today, Lord Neuberger said women must believe in their own power. 'If a judge says [the hearing] must start at 9.30am but the woman cannot be there until 10am because of the school run, they should say something.'

Highlighting challenges that women face in the legal profession, Neuberger said some law firms require a 24/7 commitment. He said: 'The 24/7 culture in many law firms is part of an internal process built up over the last few decades. And it is attributable to what clients expect from their solicitors because clients in [some] industries have a similar 24/7 culture.'

IT developments over the last 25 years means lawyers 'cannot get away from work wherever she is [and it] reinforces the 24/7 culture', Neuberger said. However, he acknowledged that IT developments have also enabled lawyers to work from home or work in the evenings 'after the children have gone to bed'.

When asked whether the judiciary should introduce gender quotas, Neuberger said he was 'less firm in my view than I was but I'm still against it'. Some women judges would find quotas patronising while others would support it.

He said: 'I think it could undermine women's prospects as much as help them. There is an element of unfairness as well. It could risk undermining the quality of the judiciary.'

Targets could be more appropriate, Neuberger suggested, although he was concerned that these could morph into quotas. However, 'if the threat of quota helps to concentrate hearts and minds, so much the better', he said.