Aileen has worked in criminal law for 40 years and has been a partner in three different law firms. She is a founder member – and current secretary – of Women in Criminal Law.
Here we ask Aileen to reflect on what it means to be a woman working in the criminal justice sector in 2023.
Q: You qualified as a lawyer in 1983. How has the profession changed for women since then?
I think the profession has changed both a great deal, and also not very much! There are certainly many more opportunities for female lawyers now than there used to be. Specialisms that used to be dominated by men are no longer exclusively so. Many more women are now entering the profession.
But at the same time some of the big issues for women, such as career longevity and progression, remain unresolved. I think that we, as a society, still believe that women are the primary carers for children and that men are the financial rainmakers.
Although this rigid approach is thankfully changing, my view is that the legal profession still broadly reflects society’s views on this issue.
Q: What do you think has been the main impact of these attitudes on female lawyers?
Compromise. And tension. I raised my child alone whilst also working, sometimes full and sometimes part time. It was not an easy balancing act, especially when I was expected to attend a marketing event which started at precisely the time when I was due to pick up my son from childcare.
One positive difference since raising my child in the 90 and 00s is that there is now an awareness and open discussion of the challenges involved in being a working mother. Courts, barristers’ chambers and solicitors’ practices are, I think, much more ready to hear the concerns of working mothers, and to adapt their procedures to help.
There’s still a way to go, but we are heading in the right direction.
Q: What other advances have you seen?
Technological developments have been a huge boon. Platforms like Zoom and Teams mean that women with childcare responsibilities are much more able to ‘attend’ what would previously have been face-to-face meetings scheduled at difficult times of day.
The advent of digital casework means the days of lugging huge files to and from courts and the office are thankfully over!
Also – and speaking personally – I consider myself lucky to be a partner in a firm which takes the concerns of female lawyers and staff seriously.
Hickman & Rose was co-founded by a proud feminist, Jane Hickman. Whilst Jane has recently retired, we remain a place in which women can speak out and are listened to. That is an important part of her legacy.
Q: Tell us about your involvement in WICL
I think one of the major advances for women in law has been the growth in the number of organisations dedicated to improving our professional situation.
It’s a fantastic, dynamic organisation which caters for women working within the criminal justice system. We campaign on a wide range of issues and hold regular networking events. Unlike the overwhelmingly male formal networking events of my early career, attendees at WICL’s events are almost 100% women. And they are refreshing and inspirational.