Lady Hale inspires Chichester University students and reflects on trailblazing career: “I was walking into rooms where nobody looked like me”

The trailblazing judge Lady Hale met the Chichester University’s first ever cohort of law degree students on Monday, ahead of giving her first talk since retiring from the Supreme Court last month.

Lady Hale (centre) with University vice-chancellor Professor Jane Longmore and West Sussex County Council leader, councillor Paul Marshall
Lady Hale (centre) with University vice-chancellor Professor Jane Longmore and West Sussex County Council leader, councillor Paul Marshall

The Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE, who was wearing one of her trademark brooches depicting a frog on a lily pad, was introduced to the 15 students studying for a LLB (Hons) Law degree, which launched at the university in September.

She told the Observer: “I’ve spoken to almost all of them and they tell me they are thoroughly enjoying it, finding it difficult and hard work, and that’s how it should be.

“What they really like is the small scale of the operation, so they feel they can always talk to a member of staff if they are finding something difficult.”

She said she enjoyed meeting the ‘bright eyed, bushy tailed’ lawyers of the future.

“It’s lovely,” she said. “It makes one feel a bit younger oneself.”

Lady Hale has had an extensive career at the forefront of UK judiciary, as the first female Law Lord and the first and only female President of the Supreme Court.

After a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer and judge, including teaching at Manchester University for 18 years, she was appointed to the High Court in 1994, promoted to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales in 1999 and to the House of Lords in 2004.

She was appointed to President of the Supreme Court in 2017, where she has presided over some of the biggest stories in recent British legal history, including judgments around triggering Article 50, to kickstart Brexit, and more recently the effort to prorogue Parliament, which was deemed unlawful.

Reflecting on how the sector had changed since she was a young student herself, Lady Hale said: “If anything it’s harder now.”

When she started out, she said there was an expanding number of opportunities in private practices and fewer law students – while the opposite is true now.

However things have certainly changed when it comes to being a woman in the sector.

She said: “At least the women in the class can look around and see lots of people like them.

“I was walking into rooms where there was nobody who looked like me, or hardly anyone.”

Her advice to the law students of today was ‘firstly to enjoy it’.

“If you enjoy it you’re going to work hard, and you need to work hard,” she said.

“I say be the best you can at whatever you’re doing now. Try to keep an open mind about what you are doing next.”

People should try and be open to whatever opportunities came their way, she said, adding: “That’s what happened to me all my life.

“I enjoyed it, I worked very hard, I took all the opportunities that came my way, said yes rather than no when something rather off the wall came along.

“It seemed to work rather well for me.”

After meeting the students, Lady Hale spoke in front of more than 250 people at the event, including around 150 students from schools including Bishop Luffa and Chichester College, and councillors from West Sussex County Council.

While on stage, Lady Hale said that the two Miller cases – the landmark constitutional law cases on the limits of the royal prerogative power to prorogue Parliament – were among the most interesting and challenging of her 40-year legal career.

Speaking of the case, and the reaction to her famed spider brooch, she said: “I did not think the judgement would go all around the world with its level of interest.

“I certainly did not think that so many people would comment on the brooch.

“The ruling had been done carefully but very quickly: we had finished the session on Thursday and published the report on Tuesday.”

The Baroness also spoke about future plans to live-stream open court hearings – to which she favoured – and gave further advice to budding law students.

Senior lecturer Dr Amy Elkington, who manages the LLB (Hons) Law degree at the university, said it was an ‘incredible privilege’ to welcome Lady Hale.

“She is a trailblazer for women – as demonstrated by her motto which, in Latin, translates as ‘women are equal to everything’ – and is an inspirational figure for aspiring lawyers who has campaigned tirelessly for diversity within the judiciary and equality in law,” she said.