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Women in Silk: yes we can!

13th February 2017

There are celebrations at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers today as our sixth silk in 12 months is sworn in at Westminster Hall.  With the appointments of Sarah Clarke QC and Debra Powell QC (as well as Gerry Boyle QC), the set will see its third and fourth women elevated to the senior ranks since February 2016, as Sarah and Debra join Katie Gollop QC and Bridget Dolan QC who both took silk last year.

We know that our four appointments will encourage the other women in chambers to aim high” said Bridget. “Our first female QC in chambers is now on the High Court Bench, but the four recent appointments have certainly changed the profile at the top of chambers with 25% of our silks now women.”

Each of the four women have very different practice profiles, right across the chambers’ specialisms, and they have had very different career paths. Katie, who specialises in healthcare law, came to the Bar following her first degree in English. Debra had a short stint at the Law Commission before starting her pupillage at Serjeants’ Inn, developing her practice in medical law and police law.  Sarah, who co-heads the Business and Specialist Crime team, is a specialist in insider dealing and financial crime as well as disciplinary and police law.  She spent part of her practice at the employed Bar, working for the FSA before joining Chambers.  Bridget was a latecomer to the profession, starting her pupillage at 34, after 13 years as a psychologist. She now specialises in the Court of Protection and Coronial law.

That the four women have had such different career paths and different lives shows the increasing choices open to women on the road to silk.  Two are single, one married and one in a civil partnership, but one thing they have in common is that each of them has school-age children.  “That our seven children range from age 5 to 16 years, shows that maternity leave and career breaks need not hold you back” said Sarah.

It would, however, be naive to suggest that work demands sit easily with other commitments. The active encouragement of their Heads of Chambers and the camaraderie in chambers have been important in supporting their careers. “It’s quite telling that with four women silks in chambers we now have 1% of all the women silks ever appointed” said Debra.  There still have been fewer than 400 female silks in total since Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron were appointed as the first female QCs in 1949: 449 men have taken silk in the last six years alone.

All agree that managing their careers and family lives would not have been possible without the relentless support of a superb clerking team, led by Lee Johnson.  “All our clerks are super-responsive expert problem solvers who are genuinely committed to supporting women with families” said Katie.  “Lee knows more about the law and managing barristers than any clerk I’ve come across – he should be Lee Johnson QC!”

The six chambers silks appointed in the last 12 months also include Michael Horne QC, who took silk last year, and Gerry Boyle QC, also appointed today.  With the arrival in the Autumn of Chris Daw QC, this brings the total number of silks at Serjeants’ Inn to 17.

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