Self-confessed ‘country girl’ Lady Hale reveals she rejected a magic circle training contract

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By Katie King on

Things could have been very different for top judge

The president of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, revealed yesterday that she’d turned down a magic circle training contract offer when she graduated from Cambridge because she’s a “country girl” at heart.

In a candid video interview premiered at the Supreme Court as part of the First 100 Years project, the country’s judicial head honcho said that she was unsure where her career would take her after she studied law at Girton College. She had considered the bar and had applied for an Inns scholarship, but had not got it and had not liked what she’d seen when she interviewed.

People at that time, Hale reminisced, had felt put off becoming a barrister if they did not have money and connections (and she had neither). She reflected: “It was wrong to put people off going to the bar because almost anybody that went to the bar in the 1960s did very nicely thank you because that was when the work started to pick up and take off, but there was a certain amount of discouragement.”

Instead she spent her holidays working in a local solicitors that her parents had used (“I had enjoyed that a lot”). And then, Hale said:

“Another occasion I spent at one of the magic circle firms in the City, and they were kind enough to offer me articles [a training contract]. But, I’m not sure whether they’d had a woman articled clerk by then.”

An offer from an elite magic circle outfit would have seen a fresh-faced Hale work at the commercial law coalface.

Reverend Richard Coles speaking with Lady Hale yesterday evening

However, she decided she didn’t want to do her solicitors exams right off the bat because she’d worked hard for her Cambridge exams, and:

“I wasn’t really attracted by the City. Something about the atmosphere I didn’t quite like — possibly being a country girl, I don’t know.”

Instead, Hale made a move into academia and qualified as a barrister at the same time, eventually ditching the latter for a full-time career at the University of Manchester. Later in yesterday’s First 100 Years film premiere event, Hale revealed some of her career highlights during a Q&A with Reverend Richard Coles (random I know). These included working in the team that championed the Children Act 1989, as well as judgments including ZH (Tanzania) (on the free movement rights of children) — perhaps this reaffirms Hale’s passions would have been wasted in a career in the City.

Elsewhere in Hale’s illuminating take on her time in legal practice (video embedded above), the feminist pioneer revealed her pupil master had not been very fond of women at the bar. The family law specialist — who was the first person in her school both to go to Cambridge and to read law — said that halfway through her training she confronted him, asking if the rumours about his view on equality were true.

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When he told her that yes, they were, she asked: “Why? Your wife is a doctor!” He replied:

“Medicine is a caring profession and women should, of course, be carers. But the bar is a fighting profession, and women shouldn’t fight.”

This response led a young Hale to doubt her legal abilities, further driving the “imposter syndrome” the woman of many firsts admitted to Coles she has felt through much of her life. With a room full of more than 200 people hanging on to Hale’s every word last night (and trying to get selfies with her!) it’s safe to say she’s far from an imposter.

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