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Lady Arden: I was told I couldn’t be a barrister because solicitors would never instruct a woman

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Supreme Court justice reflects on legal career in new interview

📸 Lady Arden (100 Years Project)

Fresh from her Supreme Court appointment, Lady Justice Arden has revealed how she was once advised not to pursue a career at the bar on account of her being a woman.

Speaking in a short video interview, Arden reflected candidly on the barriers she encountered at the beginning of her legal career. Having flirted with the idea of becoming a doctor (she confesses that being hopeless at maths scuppered this particular dream), Liverpool-born Arden decided to follow in her family’s footsteps and become a lawyer.

However, unlike her grandfather, father and brother, Arden harboured ambitions of becoming a barrister, not a solicitor — an unorthodox career move for a woman at the time. Arden, who studied law at Cambridge’s Girton College, before going on to complete an LLM at Harvard Law School, said:

“There was lots of sucking of breath saying it’s going to be difficult you know, but it was all about well you can be a solicitor, but you can’t be a barrister. People will never instruct you and you will never be able to get on.”

Fortunately, Arden pursued her dream, spurred on by the pioneering exploits of Rose Heilbron, a Liverpudlian barrister who was one of the first two women to be appointed King’s Counsel and the first woman to lead in a murder case.

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Arden, pictured below with Legal Cheek‘s Adam Mawardi‎ and Aishah Hussain‎, continued:

“But, and this is a big but, I come from the North West and in our area we had a very famous woman advocate, Rose Heilbron, and she was in the newspaper pretty much every day. And she was very glamorous, she had a huge amount charisma, she won a great deal of her criminal cases, and so there was a role model.”

Carving out an equally successful legal career, Arden went on to specialise in company law at London’s Erskine Chambers, talking silk in 1986. She served as Attorney General of the Duchy of Lancaster between 1991 and 1993, and later the Court of Appeal from 2000 to 2018. Arden, who is married to Lord Mance, former deputy president of the Supreme Court, was appointed to the UK’s top bench last October.

You can watch the interview, produced by the First 100 Years project, a celebratory campaign to mark the year when women could first practise law, in full below:

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