2019 marks the centenary in the UK of the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which allowed women to enter the legal profession. Julie McLean, a director and board member of Conyers Dill & Pearman, takes a timely look back at the story of women in Bermuda’s legal sector and the progress to equality in her own firm.
The history of women lawyers in Bermuda begins with an exceptional pioneer – Lois Browne-Evans (later Dame Lois). In 1953, some 30 years after the first female lawyer in the UK, she was the first woman to be called to the Bermuda bar. As a young, black woman barrister in a profession dominated by white men, she was a trailblazer who in her long career went on to break down other professional barriers, including becoming the first female Attorney General in Bermuda in1998. Following in Lois Browne-Evans footsteps, though over a decade later, were Ann Cartwright DeCouto and Shirley Simmons. As the only three women practising law in Bermuda in the 1960s, they were close friends and known as the “Three Musketeers”.
Other pioneers in the island’s legal profession include Dianna Kempe and Norma Wade-Miller. Dianna Kempe was admitted to the Bermuda Bar in 1973 and went on to become Senior Partner of Appleby, Spurling & Kempe (now Appleby). She was the first female lawyer to become Queen’s Council (QC) in Bermuda in 2000 as well as the first woman to be elected President of the International Bar Association. In 2006 she was the third recipient of the Outstanding World Woman Lawyers of the Year Award. Norma Wade-Miller was the first female magistrate in Bermuda, the first female Judge of the High Court, Justice of the Supreme Court of Bermuda and Acting Chief Justice in Bermuda. Her service to the island’s legal community and judiciary was honoured with an OBE in 2016.