The Legal Profession, Working Women and International Womens Day

Partner, Caroline Kelly joined the debate to discuss the statement; ‘This house believes the legal profession has failed working women’.

Yesterday, on International Womens Day, I had the pleasure of participating in a debate, organised by Women in Law Scotland (WiLS). Despite being a litigation lawyer, debating in this format was new ground to me. The proposition was ‘This house believes the legal profession has failed working women’, and as a working woman in the legal profession, I gladly accepted the challenge to argue for the proposition.

Thankfully, one member of our team, David Bryson, Legal Counsel at Baillie Gifford, had debating experience and was able to guide myself and Ximena Vengeochea, Advocate along the way in the rules of debating.  Preparation for the debate involved looking at the statistics and how the legal profession is made up and considering possible ways that the legal profession may be holding women back. But we also had to consider potential arguments that the opposition would come up with.

The evening was very well attended, mainly by women, which was slightly disappointing as I would have liked to have seen more men there, despite the subject being about women in the legal profession. Christine McLintock, past President of the Law Society was our chair for the evening and did a fantastic job of introducing each of the team members, as well as chairing the debate.

We had the first opening argument and David clearly set out the structure of our arguments, as well as taking the opportunity to throw some metaphorical punches at the opposition.  Roddy MacPherson, Messenger-at-Arms and Sheriff Officer at Rutherford & MacPherson led the opposition and gave us all a history lesson, as well as setting out some of the oppositions arguments.

Thereafter, each team member had an opportunity to fully set out their arguments. It was a daunting task, standing before an audience of almost 100 women, trying to convince them that the legal profession has failed working women, as clearly none of those in the audience would consider themselves to be failures. It was heartening to see some nods of agreement during my arguments and Ximena’s, but it was too early to hope that this meant we would be successful.

Val Dougan, Professional Support Lawyer at CMS and Joyce Cullen, Partner at Brodies LLP, who were the second and third team members against the proposition did a valiant job of setting out their reasons as to why the proposition should fail including highlighting the progress that has been made since 1920 when the first female law agent was admitted.

After David and Roddy set out their closing arguments, it was time for the vote. Initially, it was thought it would be a close vote, but ultimately, as the team arguing for the proposition we were successful. I’m not sure if that is a good thing – perhaps it was just our excellent debating skills that persuaded the audience, rather than the majority of the audience actually believing that this is the case.

And with that, my first debating experience was over. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, made all the easier by how well organised the event was by Women In Law Scotland and by having the help of two great team mates. The thought of debating might strike fear into the heart of some, but I would say if you are offered the opportunity, take it – you will learn a lot. I am certainly grateful for having had the opportunity and should the opportunity arise again, I am also certain I will take it.

Caroline Kelly is a Partner and Solicitor Advocate. Contact Caroline on 01382 346282 or email ckelly@thorntons-law.co.uk.

Categories: Personal Injury

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