‘Surviving The Bar’ - Temple North Women’s Forum Annual Event

On October 19th, the Temple (North) Women’s Forum (TNWF) held its third annual event at the School of Law, University of Leeds.

Organised by Dr Iyiola Solanke, whose academic work focuses on judicial diversity, the goal of the TNWF is to extend the outreach work of the Temple Women’s Forum (created by The Honourable Societies of the Middle Temple and Inner Temple) to legal professionals in the North. The event was entitled ‘Surviving the Bar’ and brought an audience of students and local practitioners together to listen to inspiring and encouraging talks from a stellar line up of speakers.

We were delighted to be able to welcome the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd on his first visit to the Law School. The evening began with an incisive address from the Lord Chief Justice, setting out the importance of a diverse judiciary for not only the independence but also the credibility of the judiciary. As he noted, diversity in the judiciary does not stop at gender, but also includes a need for more judges from black and minority ethnic groups at all levels of the judiciary. A representative judiciary is a more democratic judiciary.

He set out the various initiatives being introduced under his leadership to achieve this – from the introduction of flexible working in the judiciary to the use of the Diversity and Community Relations Judges across the country. He also explained the importance of evaluating this work to ensure that it achieved its goals. His stimulating talk gave rise to many questions from the audience, including challenging questions on the role of merit and the use of quotas. In answering these questions, the LCJ was keen to emphasise that merit had to be set alongside potential - good judges are made rather than born. Continuing to review the use of the ‘tipping point’ provisions will be of great importance.

Lord Thomas was followed by personal addresses from The Lady Justice Eleanor King, Her Honour Judge Jessica Pemberton, Brie Stevens-Hoare QC and Chair–Elect of the Bar Council Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC. Each spoke extensively of their experiences at the Bar and beyond, providing sage advice on how to not only survive but thrive at the Bar.

Key words used throughout the evening from each speaker included conscious choices, self-belief, passion, preparation, determination and bravery. However, the speakers noted the significant change in the current context: students and entrants to the profession may now have more opportunity as gender discrimination in the profession declines, but more is also expected of them – preparation takes longer and more materials are required. Students were therefore encouraged to not be shy in asking for help. Support was highlighted as crucial, not only from family members but also from the various organisations – universities, law firms, companies and chambers - in which women work. The role of men was also mentioned – judicial diversity requires the men in the profession, especially those in leadership positions, to recognise how their short term decisions can contribute to or detract from this long term goal.

The words of wisdom and encouragement imparted by each speaker made for a great deal of lively conversation which continued during the informal reception. It was a very positive evening and one which will stay in the memories of those present and be celebrated by the School of Law for a long time to come.

Lord Thomas said afterwards: “It was a great pleasure to take part in the latest Temple Women’s event. I found the discussion throughout the evening both interesting and encouraging, and I very much appreciated the frank views shared by those who attended. I am particularly grateful to Professor Mullis, Dr Solanke and the Law School for their generosity in hosting this important event”.

By Dr Iyiola Solanke