KazBar Women in Law Committee
Interview with Christina Blacklaws, President of the Law Society of England and Wales for the Kazakhstan Bar Association by Sofiya Zhylkaidarova Women in Law Committee, KazBar and managing partner of SIGNUM Law Firm
1. About the Law Society of England and Wales and about yourself?
The Law Society’s role is to represent, promote and support all solicitors in allowing them to assist their clients in a more effective manner. We represent more than 180,000 lawyers in England and Wales and are committed to emphasising the vital role legal services play in all aspects of society including upholding the rule of law and defending human rights. We also aim to ensure that no-one is above the law and to protect everyone’s right to have access to justice. The Law Society has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 2014.
I studied jurisprudence at Oxford and qualified as a solicitor in 1991. Since then, I have developed and managed law firms, including a virtual law firm. In 2011, I set up the Co-operative Legal Services family law offering, later becoming their director of policy; and more recently I was the Director of Innovation at a top 100 firm Cripps LLP. I have held a range of public appointments, including member of the Family Justice Council, trustee of LawWorks and council member for the Women Lawyers Division.
In July 2018, I became the 5th female president of 174th Law Society presidents.
2. How you inspire women to join the profession?
Historically women were excluded from careers in the legal profession – until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, they were not deemed ‘persons’ and unable to qualify as barristers and solicitors. Today women now make up more than half of practising solicitors in the UK. Only with a proper understanding of what we have achieved, will we be able to inspire the new generation of women lawyers to join the profession. The obstacles have been enormous, but we must continue increasing the visibility of successful women and creating positive female role models within the profession to make it more accessible.
3. What are the key obstacles and challenges for achieving gender equality in the legal profession?
The legal sector is still a long way from achieving gender equality and, given its influential position in society, it should play a more active leadership role on this issue. From the UK experience, there is an increasing demand for greater equality coming from clients, the business sector, and the public, which is driving law firms to adopt and implement policies aimed at tackling gender inequality.
From the findings of the Law Society’s recent Global Survey 2018, it is obvious that these efforts have not been systematic enough to sustain and advance the progress made; the strategies adopted have not been transformational enough to cause systemic change; and that the changes are not happening at the right speed. These main barriers include: unconscious bias, gender pay gap, and female retention strategies.
4. What are you doing as an organization to address this?
I have a strong commitment to gender equality within the legal profession and, for that reason, I decided to champion this agenda in my presidential year. Our international team has also developed the “international women in the law” (IWIL) programme — one of five “international rule of law programmes” – that shows that Law Society’s long-term commitment to support women lawyers globally.
Supporting fellow lawyers to level the playing field for women lawyers, judges, and prosecutors is the right thing to do and can only be achieved in partnership with other key stakeholders, including male champions for gender equality. That is why we are always seeking initiatives that contribute to eliminate gender stereotypes that perpetuate gender inequalities. In this way, the legal sector would demonstrate strong leadership, continuous commitment, and inclusive engagement that would contribute to fulfil this agenda. We have also created a new methodology using roundtables to discuss best practices and strategies to push for more gender equality and leadership in the legal profession.
5. How can women members support other women in the profession?
In a global society, women lawyers have a greater opportunity to generate solidarity linkages among themselves, thus reducing our geographical boundaries, and increasing collaborative work. That is why we stand in solidarity with other women and welcome any opportunity to celebrate and engage in meaningful discussion to transform the legal profession. We need to build legal sectors that are inclusive, diverse, and more equal. As women, we have the power to transform so we must increase the visibility of women in the legal profession, not only showcasing the challenges and opportunities, but also actively giving a supportive hand to the next generation of female lawyers.