An Interview with awards winner Mary Prior QC, The 36 Group
What does it mean to win the award?
Women in the Law UK have been a beacon of light in encouraging and inspiring all women to dream and to succeed. I was honoured to be part of a shortlist of fabulous women who do the same. I was delighted to have my work for the profession recognised by winning this award. I hope that the fact I won demonstrates that women from humble beginnings can shine in our profession and that we can all work together to ensure that this becomes the norm not the exception.
What one personal achievement in the last 12 months are you most proud of?
Professionally this year I defended the youngest person in the United Kingdom who was charged with preparing acts for terrorism. This high profile case was given to me because of my expertise in representing young and vulnerable people with communication difficulties. The case was prosecuted by a highly experienced large team. The young person was found not guilty. I was extremely proud to have been his voice. Personally this year I founded and ran the Midland Circuit Social Mobility Programme which is doing ground breaking work to ensure that the Midland Circuit properly reflects the society in which we live.
How do you develop diversity within your own company?
I head the Corporate Social Mobility group within The 36 Group. We have encouraged diversity and equality by employing experts in equality and diversity to ensure that our recruitment processes are fair and transparent. We redact the name of the applicant and their university. We make chambers a warm and welcoming place for all by educating our team by a series of monthly meetings about the difficulties we might create for different groups in society. We do outreach work at schools and colleges. We run an online advocacy competition where students are simply judged on their advocacy skills. Our staff and members are heavily involved in projects to make the community in which we live a better place.
What single profession-wide initiative would you advocate to advance the cause of gender diversity within the law?
The entry rate to the profession is equal and balanced. It is the attrition rate of women practitioners after 10 years which means that there are far more men who remain and who then succeed. Change requires there to be global support within the profession for women to remain once they have had a family. This means dispelling the myth that it is acceptable to work all hours of the day and night during a case, supporting each other when one of us indicates that they cannot meet a deadline for personal reasons, ensuring that cases are time marked and that hearings can be conducted remotely wherever possible. We also need to reflect the importance of publicly funded work by providing adequate renumeration.
What is your key message to women looking to progress or start a career in the law industry?
A career in law is the very best job ever as a woman. It is one of the few professions for women where increasing age and experience is something to be admired. It is possible to have a successful career and a family but it is plainly hard work. Always have a mentor. Be part of a supportive network of women. Be proud of what you achieve and do not let the inevitable self-doubt hold you back from achieving all that you can. Walk beside each other and be kind. There is never a need to treat anyone badly in your efforts to succeed. Try to learn from each case you do and remember always what a privilege it is to do this job and that you owe it to yourself and the generations before you of trail blazing women to be the very best that you can be.