Hilary Heilbron QC is a silk at Brick Court Chambers, and has some 30 years’ experience as a Queen’s Counsel practising predominantly in the Commercial Court. She has represented a wide range of national and international commercial clients, including as leading counsel in the House of Lords, the Supreme Court and Privy Council. She also now sits regularly as an international arbitrator. Hilary recently wrote a book about her late mother, legal pioneer Dame Rose Heilbron, a celebrated advocate of her time, whose career included not only many high profile cases, but also many ‘firsts’ for a woman in the legal profession: she was the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn; one of the first two women to be appointed King’s Counsel in England in 1949; the first woman to lead in a murder case; England’s first woman judge in 1956 when made a Recorder; the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey; and the first woman Treasurer of Gray’s Inn as well as many other pioneering accomplishments.
Women in Law: In Conversation with Hilary Heilbron QC
Hilary Heilbron QC
Well, I wrote a biography of my mother a few years ago because I wanted people of this generation to know how much of a pioneer she was in her day. When she came to the bar she was one of the first and she blazed a trail with a whole string of firsts.
I came to the bar in the early seventies and things had improved quite a lot for women but still there were obstacles: I was the first woman in my chambers; there were very few women then doing commercial law and it was pretty normal for me to go to a business meeting and be the only woman in the room.
Expectations, justifiably, of women have changed. When you get a groundswell of women, as we have now, things change, and long overdue that they should.
More than 50% coming out of university are women and this has been going on for a few years but probably not sufficiently long, quite yet, to increase the number of silks.
My mother, as I mentioned, was the first woman Queen’s Counsel, jointly. I took silk thirty eight years later and was the 29th Queen’s Counsel. We now have 15%, approximately, Queen’s Counsel at the bar.
I’d like to think the future is bright for women in the law, I think because there are so many more working women in the law now that they will create their own opportunities. They have a voice and they are using that voice and I see no reason for it not to be bright.