Grand portraits hang in the halls of our profession’s historic buildings – from the Law Society to the Inns of Court – and coherently chart the history of men in the legal profession over hundreds of years. They tell of imposing, confident, impressive individuals that have been some of the country’s leading names in law. Not so for women – however confident, achieving, impressive and successful their story, it is not written in canvas and oil as few of them have risen to the top. It is high time that this should change.
Enter the First 100 Year project I initiated and Obelisk Support, my business, has funded and coordinated since 10 March 2014. It all began with an image from 1982 – that of one woman surrounded by a group of 50 or so male partners marking the 100th anniversary of one of the City of London’s best known law firms. I was fascinated to understand how it felt to be the only woman and what her journey in the legal profession had been. I was anxious to ask her how it felt to be a lonely star? And I am delighted Dorothy Livingston, the sole woman in the middle of the photograph, has embraced the project and will share her story with us all.
The aim of the First 100 Years project was ambitious and clearly defined from the outset: a 5 year project (2014-2019) to create the world’s first digital museum (www.first100years.org.uk) dedicated to the journey of women in law. It would include 100 video personal stories of women lawyers as well as hundreds of digitised artefacts and exclusive content to chart our own journey in the legal profession since 1919 to the present.
There’s no doubt that as I reflect on the project’s first, foundation year (2014-2015), we have achieved a lot: we have a great following on social media, have acquired partnership from all of the main legal bodies (including the Law Society and the Bar Council), we filmed our first video with Lady Cohen, a solicitor who now sits in the House of Lords as a Labour peer. Our visitors to the project website spend an average 5 minutes reading our stories.
There’s something empowering about understanding one’s history and celebrating. Although the family tree for women in law goes back less than 100 years, it is for us all to bring each piece of the puzzle we possess to make the picture complete. If not for our sake, for the sake of the next generation of women in law who need to build on the confidence of the past to secure an equal future.