Legal history made as more women than men, award top lawyer titles

For the first time in Irish legal history, more women lawyers than men have been added to the ranks of senior counsel.

Goi women and 14 men make up the latest list of lawyers to be granted “patents of precedence.”

Patents are granted by the government on the advice of an advisory committee consisting of chairpersons of high courts and attorneys general.

The committee does not differentiate between the genders of applicants when making recommendations.

However, due to the high number of applications from men, the list of senior lawyers has historically been dominated by male lawyers.

But this year has seen a surge in female appointments following calls from Justice Minister Helen McEnty, the Irish Women’s Lawyers’ Association (IWLA) and the Law Society for more women to apply.

“For the first time ever, the number of nominated women exceeds the number of men,” said Law Society president Michelle née Longine.

IWLA President Aoife McNichol said it was great to see the level of successful female applicants “more reflective of the profession, but also of the society we serve”.

More than half of the lawyers in Ireland are women, while more than a third of barristers are women.

The IWLA held an event last year in which senior women lawyers outlined the route to be followed for obtaining patents of preference.

“The idea behind this is that we will provide information for people to be able to apply, because it is obviously a very competitive process,” said Ms McNicol.

“Women are not good at putting themselves ahead and sometimes you need someone who is ahead of you to show the way. The idea is that if you can see it, you can be it.”

Ms McNicol said that to become a senior lawyer, lawyers must be able to show significant knowledge, experience and skills.

“It’s fair to say that the challenges women face have made it difficult to reach an advanced stage in their careers to be able to apply,” she said.

“For example, women generally have higher caregiving responsibilities, whether it is looking after children or other family members.”

Support is needed with regard to caregiving responsibilities and motherhood so that women can reach the stage in their careers where they can build the necessary knowledge and skills needed to become a senior advocate, he added.

Of the 34 patents granted this week, 28 were granted to barristers and six to solicitors.

The system of granting patents dates back to the 1700s. Barristers who become senior advocates are called to the internal bar and can earn high fees.

Solicitors are only able to become senior advocates from 2020 under the changes introduced in the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.

Solicitors who become Senior Advocates will continue to be Solicitors.

The awarding of the degree recognizes competence, integrity and independence, and either advocacy skills, expertise in specialist litigation or specialist knowledge of the area of ​​law.

Among the 16 female barristers who were granted patents were Disclosure Tribunal counsel Sinead McGrath and House of the Orchatas Melissa English legal counsel.

The four women on the list of solicitors included Deborah Spence, advisor and former partner of Arthur Cox, Sinead Kearney, partner of Bayernwalles, Aisling Gannon of Evershed Sutherland and partner Helen Kelly of Matheson.

Some 61 legal professionals applied for the latest round of patents, of which more than half were successful.

Twenty-four male barristers and 17 female barristers applied, while 13 male lawyers and seven female lawyers applied.