Society features

The President of the Bar calls for more diversity in the profession

The majority of lawyers in Ireland are women, but men continue to dominate the upper ranks of the profession, the Law Society president has said.

On International Women’s Day on Tuesday, with a call for more diversity in the profession, Michelle Ní Longáin said it would help “break down prejudices” and increase access to justice for all .

She said men continue to dominate the upper echelons of the industry and no lawyers were among the last 20 judges appointed to the top courts.

“Recognizing the challenges that require our attention and action does not diminish the progress made to advance gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession,” she said.

“Now we must look to the future with a renewed focus to increase access to leadership for women and people from diverse backgrounds.”

Ms. Ní Longáin, who is the company’s 151st president but only the fifth woman to hold the position, said she was proud to lead “at a time of transformative change towards a more diverse future”.

She said trainee solicitors are at the center of this change “and represent the future of the profession and the future legal leaders of Ireland”.

“Demographics, including age, practice location and nationality represented among trainees, are also changing, signaling progress towards the diversity we want to see in the profession.”

She said the steps taken by the company, including the Women in Leadership mentorship program, are helping to achieve this.

Tarisai May Chidawanyika, who moved from Zimbabwe to Dublin 14 years ago and qualified as a barrister in 2020, now works with Matheson law firm.

Disadvantaged areas

“We need to amplify and listen to the voices of those who are marginalized,” she said.

“How much more real would access to justice in Irish society be when the person who is about to chart your life course understands your background, your personal circumstances and what led you to find yourself in the situation you are currently facing? Let’s encourage and educate students from underprivileged backgrounds, from primary school all the way up, and show them that the legal profession is accessible to them too.

Alysha Hoare from Cork, the first in her family to pursue a legal career, said she knew from the age of 12 that she wanted to pursue a career in law. She studied law and political science at Trinity College and was involved in the European Youth Parliament before qualifying as a lawyer.

She is now a trainee lawyer at McCann FitzGerald in Dublin and said most of her group of trainees were women and the firm had 24 female partners.

“I see great role models here, it’s a very exciting time.”

Gráinne Cuddihy worked as a legal secretary before starting her family. When her four children were teenagers, she studied at night for a law degree at University College Cork while working full time. She qualified as a lawyer in 2020 and said “it was the best thing I’ve done”.

Ms Cuddihy currently practices at James J O’Donoghue & Co in Tower, Co Cork, and, as an Ambassador for the Law Society, acts as a mentor to aspiring lawyers.

“I’ve been getting emails from mature students and I’m telling them, if I can do it, so can you.”