Women now joining the legal profession in record numbers

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Blow the dust off the history books and you will realise it is not so long ago that Isabel Sinclair QC - one of Scotland’s first women Queen's Counsel - was rebuked by the late Lord Cameron for wearing red lipstick in court.

As recently as a decade ago, Leona Dorrian, QC, was ticked off in High Court in Edinburgh for wearing a red ribbon around her neck after the judge told her she was "improperly dressed".

But the notoriously stuffy legal profession looks like it is finally being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Modernisers believe that it will soon be women judges ticking off male QCs for not straightening their wigs or colour co-ordinating their shirts and ties.

Women will soon have the upper-hand in the legal profession and the statistics speak for themselves. Last year 377 new solicitors were admitted to the Law Society of Scotland; 213 were women and 164 were men. The previous year, 421 were admitted; 238 were women and 183 were men.

A recent Law Society poll revealed that the number of women solicitors has more than quadrupled over the past decade, and their percentage of the profession has more than doubled - from 15 per cent of the total number of solicitors on the roll in 1980 to 38 per cent in 2000.

Universities, too, are detecting the huge change, reporting that about 51 per cent of all law students are female, and suggesting a further shift of balance over the next decade.

The trend is set to continue, with the number of women entering the profession now far outstripping the number of men and according to Law Society president Martin McAllister, the legal profession is simply reflecting the times.

He said: "The number of women entering the profession now outstrips the number of men. We now have a number of women fulfilling roles at the highest echelons of the legal profession. There has been a sea-change of attitude in many professions, both from an employers’ point of view and the women themselves, and this is reflected in the current make-up of the legal profession."

Critics will claim that if things are changing so much why does the Scottish legal establishment continue to face accusations of running an old boys’ club - a fact that can hardly be denied when you consider that of the 403 advocates at the Scottish bar, only 83 are women. The further up the career ladder you go, the fewer females you will encounter - just seven women are practising QCs compared with 81 men, according to latest figures from the Faculty of Advocates.

The truth may be simpler than we think according to the Law Society of Scotland, which has detected a larger increase in the number of in-house lawyers than in private practice - from 941 in 1980 to 1,581 in 2000.

In-house lawyers now make up 21 per cent of the legal profession and a great deal of them are women attracted by comfortable salaries and, more crucially, flexible hours offered by local authorities and the private sector.

A spokeswoman for the Law Society claimed that many women are not solely focused on heading for the top and in many cases put their families first. She said: "A lot of women are coming into the legal profession wanting to find an ideal balance between their careers and their plans to raise families. There are still a lot of ambitious, high-flying women coming into the profession but not everyone is intent on heading for the very top.

"It’s a lucrative career for many women, but not the be- all and end-all of their lives."