Lady Hale: ‘I have always just got on with the job’

The trailblazing judge and former President of the Supreme Court discusses her career with the next generation of young women in law.

Book, Spider Woman, against a navy blue background.

Lady Hale is an inspirational figure admired for her historic achievements and for the causes she has championed. For International Women’s Day, she was interviewed by three young women whom the Young Women’s Trust have supported to begin their careers in the law: Philippa, Nazrin and Rochelle.

The Young Women’s Trust work with young women aged 18 to 30, providing support through a free Work It Out coaching service. Media officer Katie chaired the fascinating and inspiring conversation, which touches on women and the law, the responsibilities of being a trailblazer, how not to take your work home with you and the most challenging thing about writing Lady Hale’s memoir, Spider Woman.

Rochelle: How do you deal with being a pioneer as a woman in law and leading the way for other women?

Lady Hale: Probably with my habitual insouciance. I have always just got on with the job. I’m not always conscious of being a pioneer, although for a lot of my life I have been. I don’t think I thought about being a role model for women and people from less well-represented groups until I became quite senior and people could aspire to do the jobs that I’ve been doing.

Philippa: What advice would you give to young women hoping to have a legal career? How can we as professionals help women that are coming up behind us, particularly those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds?

LH: The best way to pave the way for the people who come after you is to be really good yourself. The first thing to do is enjoy what you’re doing. There is always something in the law – it’s a wonderful, wonderful subject. When you enjoy something, you work hard. And if you work hard, you will be the best that you possibly can be. That in itself will show the way to other people coming along. It’s very important not to pull up the drawbridge. We have a duty to help, support and bring one another along.

Nazrin: Do you think that there’s been a noticeable difference in the culture of the Supreme Court since there have been female justices?

LH: I joined the House of Lords when the top Court was still the Appellate Committee. I do think that the other law lords were a little apprehensive. They did get used to me fairly quickly. I was able to come to a case with a different experience from that of the men. There are some things that only need to be pointed out, but they haven’t been pointed out, because the culture is a particular culture. But once it’s pointed out, people say ‘Yes, I haven’t thought of that’. The more women you have, the more people take it for granted that you are entitled to be there.

Nazrin: It highlights the importance of having different perspectives.

LH: Absolutely. And that’s why we need for more people from ethnic minorities in senior legal positions. It’s important that we have as many perspectives as possible.

Rochelle: What was your biggest challenge when writing Spider Woman?

LH: The biggest challenge was to be more forthcoming about myself. When I first wrote it, it was quite factual and not a lot about how I was feeling at any particular time. It was that challenge of bringing it to life that was the hardest.

Rochelle: If there was one thing about our legal system that you could change, what would it be?

LH: To make access to justice genuinely available to all.

Katie: Thank you all for your brilliant questions, and thank you so much Lady Hale for joining us today

LH: Thank you and every encouragement with the splendid work that you do. You may notice that I’m wearing a brooch that says ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’, which is the banner that Millicent Fawcett is holding in her statue on Parliament square. Millicent Fawcett was, of course, the great champion of women’s equality and the fighter for women’s right to vote, using legal means. It felt right to wear it today. 

Book, Spider Woman, standing upright on a wooden shelf

Here’s what Philippa, Nazrin and Rochelle thought of Lady Hale’s book, Spider Woman:

Philippa: An invaluable and insightful journey through both life and career, Lady Hale writes with a touching balance of sensitivity, humour, and depth. [She] highlights difficulties faced as a prominent and outspoken woman in the sector, and issues faced by other women in need of the judicial system.

Nazrin: Spider Woman is an insight into both the legal and society reforms experienced over generations. As a law school graduate myself, it was fascinating to see the authority that she brought to her role in safeguarding the rule of law – the very cornerstone that underpins our democracy.

Rochelle: A greatly inspiring read which can be enjoyed by all.

Young Women’s Trust empower young women with the tools to unlock their potential, build a fairer working future and learn from one another.

There are 1 million young women in England and Wales struggling to live on low or no pay. Young Women’s Trust offers support to young women aged 18 to 30, who are living on low or no pay and want to build a better future. We campaign for young women’s equality in the workplace and our research examines what young women’s lives are really like. Young women are at the centre of the charity’s work: leading, designing and participating. You can get involved and join the movement here

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