Women in the Law UK expands into Leeds

Women in the Law UK, a not-for-profit networking and lobbying group with more than 700 members, will hold its first event in Leeds next month. This move follows its expansion into London this September and several years of well-attended events in the Northwest of England.

The Leeds launch, which is sponsored by Stowe Family Law and supported by Paula Dillon, real estate partner at Womble Bond Dickinson and president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, will take place on the evening of 14 November at the chambers of Park Square Barristers.

A keynote address will be delivered by Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee.

The other headline speech will be delivered by Griselda Togobo, founder and managing director of the female business network Forward Ladies. Sally Penni (pictured), barrister at law and founder of Women in the Law UK, will also address the event, as will a number of leading figures from the Leeds legal scene, including Rachel Roberts, managing partner in the Leeds office of Stowe Family Law, and Angela Gorton, employment partner at Lupton Fawcett.

Women in the Law UK was founded in Manchester by barrister Sally Penni to provide support to women at all stages of their legal careers and to address the gap in female representation in leadership roles within the profession.

It runs a wide-ranging programme of events in the northwest and last month held its first formal gathering in London, an event that took place at the Fenchurch Street offices of law firm BLM and featured speakers including Dame Linda Dobbs, the UK’s first BAME High Court judge, and Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.

According to the most recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics, Leeds had the UK’s fastest-growing legal sector between 2010 and 2015, with the number of legal sector jobs in the city increasing by 20% during that period, to 8,100.

Penni, who practises out of Kenworthy’s Chambers and is also vice chair of the Association of Women Barristers, said: “As the home of the nation’s fastest-growing legal sector Leeds was the next logical destination for Women in the Law UK, and I would like to thank Park Square Barristers and Stowe Family Law for supporting us as we make our move across the Pennines. Launching in London last month was fantastic but, as anyone in the north will tell you, for an organisation that started in Manchester to be welcomed in the White Rose county is the real measure of how well our message is being received!”

She added: “Next year will mark the centenary of women being permitted to practise the law so it is fitting that as we approach that anniversary Women in the Law UK should fully live up to its name and make its presence felt nationwide. According to the consultants PWC, last year just 18% of partners in the UK’s top ten law firms were women, despite more women than men joining the profession as trainees, so our work remains as urgent as ever.”

“Our events have been really well received wherever they have been held but Women in the Law is about much more than that. It’s a mentoring, networking and campaigning organisation and I would urge women—and men—throughout the sector to join us and become part of the movement for equality and inclusion in our fabulous profession.”

The event is being held in support of the campaign, spearheaded by Rachel Reeves and Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, to erect Leeds City Centre’s first statue of a pioneering woman. Currently, the only women depicted in sculptural form in the city are Queen Victoria, Henry Moore’s anonymous Reclining Woman: Elbow, and assorted cavorting nymphs.

Penni said: “Leeds is one of the UK’s great Victorian cities. Sadly, in terms of civic statuary, it remains a little too Victorian for the 21st century so we are really please to be able to offer guests at our launch the opportunity to raise funds to help right this imbalance and honour at least one of the city’s great pioneering women.”