Manchester-based campaign group Women in the Law UK expands into London

Sally Penni

A Manchester-based mentoring, networking and lobbying group with more than 700 members in the North West is to launch in London today (September 20).

Women in the Law UK will hold its first formal event in the capital tonight with a bill of high-profile speakers from the worlds of law and business.

The event will take place at the City offices of law firm BLM, with speakers including Dame Linda Dobbs, the UK’s BAME High Court Judge, and Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.

Other leading figures set to address the event include Claire Howell, chief executive of the Really Effective Development Company, Deborah Bryan, family law barrister, Sara Ibrahim, barrister and political activist, and the former Olympic swimmer Kate Haywood.

Women in the Law UK was founded in Manchester by the award-winning barrister Sally Penni to provide support to women at all stages of their legal careers and to address the gap in female representation in leadership roles within the profession.

The non-profit organisation runs a wide-ranging programme of events in Manchester and has more than 700 members and 14 ambassadors.

The organisation’s inaugural London gathering will be the first in a quarterly programme of meetings in the capital.

Women in the Law UK is also seeking members and ambassadors in London to represent its agenda within their firms and chambers.

Miss Penni said: “Our events have been really well received in the North West of England and, on the back of that, our colleagues in London asked us whether Women in the Law UK could replicate our formula in the capital.

“I am excited to be able to do so, and would like to thank BLM for hosting us, and all of our speakers and panellists for giving up their time to support our launch.

“Sadly, diversity is still a real issue in our profession, particularly at a senior level, so I hope that women and men alike will not only attend our events but join our organisation and – most of all – work with their employers to encourage an environment that supports women throughout their careers.

“We are also keen to collaborate with other like-minded organisations to promote diversity in the professions nationwide.”

A report by the consultancy firm PwC in 2017 found that, although law firms recruit a greater proportion of female than male trainees, female representation plummets at partner level.

In the top 10 UK firms PwC revealed that just 18% of partners were women, a figure that rose slightly to 19% among firms ranked 11-25.

The PwC report laid much of the blame for the lack of female participation at partner level on a culture of long hours that many women find to be incompatible with family life.

Women in the Law UK’s events are held under the Chatham House Rule, enabling speakers and audience members to speak freely and learn from each-others’ experiences in a confidential environment.

Previous events held in Manchester have covered subjects including career progression, why lawyers need to sit on boards, how to network and make it work for you, and what lawyers can learn from inspiring businesswomen.