December 1922, legal history was made when the first woman, Carrie Morrison, was admitted to the roll of solicitors by the Law Society of England and Wales.
Now dubbed ‘the First Four’, Morrison was swiftly followed by three others – Maud Isabel Crofts, Mary Elizabeth Pickup, and Mary Elaine Sykes – who was admitted to the roll in early 1923.
The four obtained their legal right to practice after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 was passed, allowing women to enter the legal profession. The act also ensured women would receive their university degrees upon completion of studies, and that women could act on juries and as magistrates.
By the end of 1922, hundreds of women were sitting as magistrates and 11 more had been called to the bar.
Considering that nine years prior, the Bebb v Law Society case reconfirmed that women were not allowed to join the profession as they were not classified as ‘persons’ under the Solicitors Act 1843, the four women were rightly hailed as legal trailblazers for women solicitors.
Despite the four sharing this unique moment in changing history, their careers still often get overlooked in the legal industry – however, not by the many generations of women who have come after them.
The mood was optimistic as the first generation of women qualified as solicitors and barristers:
“There is plenty of work for the women solicitors; we have received several inquiries from women asking for the names of women solicitors in whose hands they can place their business. We have had to return the letters, but now I shall recommend London enquirers to get in touch with Mrs. Crofts for family business and with Miss Morrison for litigation cases.” – Law Society statement, Daily News, 2 December 1922.
The legal industry has made significant progress since 1922, with over 50% of solicitors on the roll being women. To achieve gender equality in legal leadership and opportunities, there is still much work to be done.
At Barings Law, we want to work with the legal industry to ensure it doesn’t take another 100 years of more progress to happen. It should be the duty of the legal industry to the women who fought against the prejudice of their gender to ensure we continuously set an example for others to follow.
Without the four legal trailblazers, we would be without our own incredible women solicitors and paralegals at Barings Law – all of whom dedicate their time to fighting for justice and for the future of other budding legal professionals.
Barings Law would like to thank First 100 Years founder, Dana Denis-Smith, for her insight and dedication to ensuring a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession. Her project, which raises awareness about the history of female lawyers, continues to inspire future generations of women in the legal profession. Without access to organisations such as First 100 Years, a number of women and girls would not have equality in the legal profession. Our firm is grateful to be inspired by people who make a meaningful difference, and allows us to have an inclusive and diverse legal team.