1st Edition

Gender, Choice and Commitment Women Solicitors in England and Wales and the Struggle for Equal Status

By Hilary Sommerlad, Peter Sanderson Copyright 1998
    360 Pages
    by Routledge

    360 Pages
    by Routledge

    First published in 1998, reissued here with a new preface, this volume is the first full-length discussion of women’s experiences in the solicitors’ profession in the UK. It provides an account which is grounded in historical research and a contemporary research study. The authors explore this material to analyze both women’s own experiences and the mainstream culture and structure of the profession. Following a treatment of the struggle against the formal exclusionary barriers to women’s entry to the profession, this book then seeks to identify the informal obstacles which were subsequently erected to women’s participation and career progression, and examine their persistence, in a modified form, into the contemporary era. The analysis draws on perspectives from feminist jurisprudence to the sociology of the professions to shed light on the processes which support women’s continued subordination in employment as lawyers.

    New Preface for the Reissue 1. Introduction. 2. Gender and the Legal Labour Market. 3. ‘The Common Sense of Mankind’: the Common Law and the Historical Exclusion of Women from the Legal Profession. 4. ‘Bonds of Trust’: From Informal Exclusion to Full Participation? 5. The Men’s Room: Cultural Capital and the Fraternal Contract. 6. ‘She’s All Right for a Bird’: The Accommodation of Women. 7. The Meaning of the Career Break: Human Capital, Cultural Capital, Social Capital. 8. Conclusion.


    Hilary Sommerlad is Professor of Law & Social Justice, School of Law, University of Leeds. Following a history degree (Cambridge), and a PhD in Political Science (York), she retrained in law and briefly practised as a solicitor before returning to academia in 1990 to direct the research project into women lawyers, on which this book is based.  She established and directed the Centre for Research into the Diversity in the Professions (Leeds Beckett University), the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (Birmingham University), and at Leeds directs the Legal Professions Research Group.  She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a founder member of the Judicial Diversity Initiative.

    Hilary has continued to research diversity in the legal profession. Since 1992 she has given over 260 presentations and her published output includes eight books and published reports, 27 articles and 31 book chapters.

    Pete Sanderson is Professor Emeritus in Education at the University of Huddersfield. He completed his BA in History at Cambridge, an M Phil in Housing and Race Relations at York, and a PhD in Psychology at Leeds. He has taught Research Methods, Urban Sociology, Welfare Policy and Youth Justice, and has worked as a contract researcher, and taught in both Further and Higher Education. His work with Hilary Sommerlad on the legal profession has involved work on gender, access to justice and professional knowledge. In addition , he has written on race and community cohesion in the UK.

    Review for the reissue:

    "When it first appeared in 1998, Gender, Choice and Commitment offered a groundbreaking analysis of the reasons why and the mechanisms by which women remained marginalised in the solicitors’ profession. Twenty-five years later, although women now make up the majority of solicitors in England and Wales, and law graduates from racialised and working class backgrounds have entered the profession in increasing numbers, similar mechanisms of class, race and gender exclusion continue to operate. The reissue of the book provides a timely reminder of the deep structures of social hierarchy in the legal profession, which may be reconfigured in the face of economic and social change but nevertheless persist. And it once more alerts us to the discursive justifications which locate the uneven distribution of professional career opportunities and rewards in individual ‘deficits’ of aspiration and application rather than in the professional field itself."

    Professor Rosemary Hunter KC (Hon), FAcSS, Kent Law School, UK

    Reviews for the original publication:

    ’If the status of woman solicitors is to be improved, the profession must not shirk from recognising how difficult the task is and how radical reforms must be. Anyone who is serious about taking on such a task must read this book if they are to have a clear picture of the experiences of women solicitors...’ - Law Society Gazette

    '...a tour de force, seemingly weaving economic theory, feminist theory, the sociology of professions, others’ findings, and their own data into a powerful argument powerfully presented...it is the most comprehensive, persuasive, and important contribution to the expanding literature on woman and the legal profession that I have read...anyone...who has not read this book has not done their homework.’ - Journal of Law and Society

    ’...thorough, detailed and persuasive...makes an important contribution to our understanding of some of the constraints facing women developing careers as solicitors in large, commercially orientated, law firms.’ - Work, Employment and Society

    ’...a sophisticated analysis that advances our understanding of women’s career patterns and the legal profession itself in important ways...an important contribution to understanding the gendered nature of the legal profession, women’s entry into the professions as a whole, and the persistence of women’s subordination more generally.’ - Law and Politics Book Review