Interview with Clare Montgomery QC, barrister, Matrix Chambers
Described as ranking 'in anybody's top ten of the best silks at the Bar, regardless of practice area', Clare Montgomery recently acted in the extradition case of Julian Assange.
She is ranked as a Leading Silk in Fraud (Crime) in Legal 500 2011/12.
Have you experienced or identified any barriers to career progression specific to being a woman at any time in your career?
Attitudes to women at the bar have changed considerably since I started practising in the 1980's. Most of the difficulties I encountered then were the product of unthinking gender stereotypes that have gradually diminished over time.
The main problem for me during the early years (apart from finding chambers that thought I was good enough) was to persuade lay clients that the legal service they would receive from a woman could be just as good as that from a man.
One major advantage in practising at the criminal bar is that you are given continuous opportunities, by your performance, to demolish those stereotypes, case by case.
I have also had real and positive support from male colleagues at the bar as well as in the solicitor's profession.
The attitude of the judiciary have also been, overall, a force for good so far as my career progression has been concerned. Senior judges have gone out of their way to encourage me to aspire to greater things.
Do you think there are particular issues that affect women at the junior end of the profession?
Women at the junior end still need to compete to overcome the assumptions of clients that they may not deliver the same (or better) service as a man in all areas of practice.
How could workplace culture and working practices be better for women and particularly women junior lawyers?
There needs to be an established and supportive system for managing workplace absences in relation to child bearing and rearing that ensures that women can re-enter the profession without damaging their standing in the profession and their prospects of progression.
If you could enforce one change to help women working in law what would it be?
To eradicate the idea that women are more likely to leave the profession than men because of family responsibilities.
What advice would you give to women who are starting out in their legal careers?
Be persistent. It is very easy to be deflected by the appearance of sexism when the reality is that the presence of sexism is diminishing and will be overcome.
Do you have a role model or someone who inspires you?
My mother. She was denied a university education and went out of her way to make sure I and my two sisters were able to fulfil all our academic and professional aspirations on equal terms with my brothers. She allowed us all to believe that we could do whatever we wanted without any restrictions based on gender.