Post-Brexit Britain could see female junior lawyers smash the glass ceiling and leave adversity behind, writes Adele Edwin-Lamerton
Indubitably, the EU referendum has resulted in shockwaves resounding across the UK. In fact, that is probably the understatement of the year. The value of sterling plummeted and forecasts of doom were given for the economy. France is apparently manning an effective blockade at Dover. We have to teach civil servants how to negotiate trade deals again and the housing market is losing momentum.
But a crisis can be viewed as an opportunity. We have the chance to look at things afresh, a lot sooner than we would have done and arguably on wider and more far-reaching terms. The speed of fundamental changes to the status quo could mean even more opportunities for junior lawyers to push on in spite of circumstances which may have held them back in the past.
For example, there has been a remarkable rise to power by women of late. In Theresa May, post-Brexit Britain has its second female prime minister, joining the ranks of Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel. Across the pond, the prospect of the first female president of the US is a possibility, as Hillary Clinton has been confirmed as the Democratic candidate for commander in chief.
The female emphasis continues to reverberate around the legal sector. Christina Blacklaws will be president of the Law Society in 2018 and Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC is the current chairman of the Bar. The Junior Lawyers’ Division (JLD) and the Young Barristers’ Committee are also both chaired by women (Leanne Maund and Louisa Nye respectively), and this is in addition to recently published statistics showing that the solicitor profession is becoming increasingly female dominated (60 per cent of solicitors admitted in 2014 were female).
Could post-Brexit Britain offer more opportunities for people to achieve in spite of historic barriers? May’s first speech as prime minister talked of leaving no one behind with the opportunities created by Brexit. She has put her money where her mouth is too: her cabinet is made up of 71 per cent state school-educated ministers. Gone are the Eton-educated, ‘Notting Hill’ set.
On both the gender equality and social mobility fronts, Justine Greening is a key appointment as secretary of state for education; she is only the third education secretary to have attended a school other than a grammar or independent school.
May has also appointed Liz Truss to the office of Lord Chancellor - the first-ever female office holder. Although she has already been criticised for being a non-lawyer, Truss is the third in a line of non-lawyer Lord Chancellors and, at this early stage, it is not apparent what her goals and objectives will be.
If some commentators are to be believed, many of the underlying reasons for the vote to leave the EU were the perceived inequalities in society. People have had enough of austerity.
Perhaps access to justice, which lost out heavily in the years of austerity, will be re-examined in Truss’ office. Will the introduction of tribunal fees, the increase in court fees and closures, the legal aid residency test, and the cut to criminal legal aid fee rates follow the much-hated criminal courts charge out the Ministry of Justice’s back door? The JLD certainly hopes so.
Adele Edwin-Lamerton is a solicitor at JFH Law and an executive committee member of the Junior Lawyers’ Division of the Law Society
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 9 August 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.