Catherine Dixon, the CEO of the Law Society of England and Wales delivered an interesting speech to the IBA conference earlier this month. Its main theme was the growing influence of women in the legal profession despite the traditional obstacles. This was summed up by one of her subheadings ‘Progress but more work to do.’ However, she also staked out an argument that ‘women can lead innovation’ and pointed out examples of how they do so.
As leading women change-makers, Ms Dixon cited the new Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, CrowdJustice CEO Julia Salasky, former Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff’s creation of one of the first virtual law practices in England and Wales and Professor Kate Atkinson of Liverpool University as an expert into artificial intelligence and the law.
The Law Society CEO pointed out that ‘advances in technology can … help to reduce the administrative burden on solicitors. That can only have a positive impact on the working conditions of women in the profession. In the UK, it is now mandatory for all companies to seriously consider flexible working requests … [This] will certainly have a positive impact on those – men or women – needing flexibility to fit in with their family commitments.’
The notion of technology as a feminist enterprise is one that merits further investigation. It might be a bit cheeky to appropriate its development in quite that way. Most of the technology leaders do actually seem to be men. However, the idea that its consequences could aid women’s position in the profession is worthy of development: practices should actively be looking to use it in this way.
Overall, there are three reasons to celebrate this speech. First, it is a thoughtful contribution to discussion, both about the role of women and technology. As a member of the Law Society myself, it is to good to see the CEO that followed Des Hudson having a similar degree of stature in professional debate. This is not something which has been apparent in some of their immediate predecessors. Second, Ms Dixon’s position as CEO is clearly secure enough to persuade her council members that she can be allowed to take up a public role. The speech was given at the IBA conference in Washington DC. This is the kind of event that, in the past, Presidents have seen as their stage and compensation for all the grinding committee meetings that they have had to attend to get to the top of the tree. Their efforts have rarely been reportable. Third, like the ABA, the Law Society is surely right to come off the fence about technology. Some of its members will wish to resist change but the professional bodies have to side with the winners and not the losers.
Commercial and technological forces will make fundamental change to the law inevitable. We now have indications that those at the head of two of the most influential professional representative bodies in the world, the ABA and the Law Society, are seriously engaging with its impact.