Sarah Falk becomes only the third solicitor to achieve feat
A former partner at Magic Circle law firm Freshfields has been appointed to the Court of Appeal, making her only the third ever solicitor to sit in England and Wales’ second highest court.
Dame Sarah Falk’s appointment to the position of Lady Justice of Appeal will see her become the only solicitor of the 37 judges serving in the Court of Appeal. The rest are barristers.
Having studied law at Cambridge University, Falk qualified as a solicitor in 1986. She specialised in tax law and became a partner at Freshfields in 1994.
In a 2019 interview with the First 100 Years Project, she described the challenges of being a woman in a then male-dominated industry. “Within the firm, I personally didn’t feel I suffered any form of discrimination,” she recalls. “But where I did notice it was in dealings with clients and business. It was the absolute norm to go into a meeting of possibly 20 people and you would be the only woman there.”
In 2013 she retired from the partnership and two years later was successfully appointed as a Deputy Judge of the Upper Tribunal, Tax and Chancery Chamber.
By 2018, Falk had become one of only three solicitors to be appointed directly to the High Court bench from private practice, and the first woman to do so.
Commenting on the appointment, Freshfields senior partner Georgia Dawson said: “I’m very pleased to hear of Dame Sarah Falk’s deserved appointment as a new Lady Justice of Appeal, demonstrating the growth of diverse representation and senior female role models within the judiciary. Sarah is an inspiration to talented lawyers across the profession.”
Figures published by the government show that the proportion of non-barrister judges sat at 31% on 1 April 2022. Despite solicitors making up nearly half (45%) of the applications for judicial appointments in 2021-2022 compared to 39% from barristers, only 27% of those receiving recommendations were solicitors whilst 54% were barristers.
Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: “Solicitors bring particular skills and experiences to the judicial process and decision-making. They also come from more diverse backgrounds than the barristers who traditionally populate the bench.”
“Lady Falk is currently the only solicitor on the Court of Appeal, and will be only the 20th Lady Justice of Appeal ever, which demonstrates there is still much progress to be made before the judiciary reflects wider society. I’m sure her appointment will encourage solicitors with judicial aspirations that there need be no limits to their ambition.”