Gender is no longer a barrier to success
WHILE at the World Bar Conference in London earlier this year, I met female colleagues from the Northern Ireland Bar who were surprised to hear I practise in commercial and chancery law.
They intimated to me that, in the North, it is difficult for women to practise in areas other than family law.
That is not my experience as a female barrister in my seventh year of practice in Dublin. The Bar is a competitive place with no barriers to entry. Women are just as capable as their male colleagues at advancing their careers, regardless of the field of law in which they want to practise. The opportunities are the same.
Since the first woman was called to the Irish Bar in 1921, the number of women in practice at the Irish Bar has increased substantially.
Many eminent and accomplished women have enjoyed great success at the Bar and beyond, such as Mary Robinson who was Ireland's first female president before pursuing a career in politics and human rights; Mary McAleese, who was a law lecturer before being elected president; and Catherine McGuinness, member of the Council of State, who was a Supreme Court judge and senator.
Indeed, women have recently been appointed to some of the highest legal offices in the State: Claire Loftus, Director of Public Prosecutions; Eileen Creedon, Chief State Solicitor; Ms Justice Susan Denham, Chief Justice; and Maire Whelan SC, Attorney General.
There is no doubt that the profession of barrister is a demanding one in which, being self-employed, rules out benefits such as paid maternity leave, sick leave and paid holidays. Nonetheless, female barristers tend to remain in full-time practice after they have children.
While many challenges face the Irish Bar, they are not gender-based.
Shelley Horan is a barrister practising in commercial and corporate law. She also lectures in Trinity College Dublin and King's Inns and is the author of 'Corporate Crime' (Bloomsbury Professional, 2011)