Advocacy, barrister, law, lawyer

historical absence of women in the legal profession




Simplicity says so much in this award winning portrait In Chambers by Charlotte Draycott the 1st prize winner in the EWL Photo Competition in 2010.




The young barrister dressing signifies a moment where the woman oscillates between her femininity, youth and the identity imposed by the barrister’s robes. It explores the tension between the traditional presentation of the English legal establishment and its modern reality.  My interest in producing this work arose from the historical absence of women within the legal system. This portrait and the others in the series are intended to conflict with the conservative conventions of portraiture within the legal establishment. Growing up within the Inns of Court I felt compelled to respond to the masculine codes of conventions implicit within traditional legal portraiture, much of which dates back to the 17th century. Retaining the painterly aesthetic and the court dress, the portrait celebrates these young modern women. I was driven by a desire to represent the unrepresented with the intention of invoking new sentiments in the portraits.


As a female lawyer I understand Charlotte’s point. The historical absence of women within the legal profession is obvious. History cannot be changed & we cannot re-write it.  Sadly, I don’t believe that much has changed in the 10+ years since 2010 when Ms Draycott won the award.  The legal establishment, the profession, certainly in USA, UK and Australia, is still white male dominated certainly in the area of criminal defence practice especially court advocacy and trials. In the USA where I worked, mainly in criminal defence, the attorneys/trial lawyers, were mainly white males.


Margaret Battye in her Court regalia 1930s Australia

I don’t know that much has really changed in South Australia, where wigs, gowns, jabots & other accoutrements of legal practice remain the same.

Historical pictures and portraits of robed and bewigged women in the profession are rare. Legal history, especially advocacy & court work, is overwhelmingly male dominated. Naturally, male lawyers feature in the images.

When I attended Adelaide University Law School, the walls in the two storey underground law library were lined with legal portraits falling within the masculine code of convention where representation of female lawyers was little or nothing.

It appears that change is very slow even with the internet making way for a broader pictorial representation of women lawyers.

Check out these few examples of the sorts of famous lily-white men, mostly English and Australian barristers, judges and jurists, who graced the walls of the Law School library back in my student days. It was these sorts of portraits that kept me company down there as I ploughed my way through those scholarly tomes.


Sir Edward Coke was an English jurist perhaps best known for his defence of the supremacy of the common law.

“Reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason… The law, which is perfection of reason.”

Edward Coke



Sir William Blackstone is best know for his Commentaries on the Laws of England a description of the doctrines of English law.

“It is better that ten guilty escape than one innocent suffer.”

Lawyers from common law based countries such as UK, USA & Australia know that much of the legal education is based on Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries.




Sir Garfied Barwick was the Chief Justice of Austalia’s High Court from 1964-81.

Garfield Barwick was also a Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice (1973–74).








Three early justices of the High Court of Australia: T-B  Sir Isaac Isaacs CJ, Sir Samuel Griffith J. and Sir Frank Duffy, CJ.,  and  High Court of Australia – former Justices


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