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WOMEN AS LAWYERS., Issue 10423, 18 September 1897, Supplement
WOMEN AS LAWYERS.
Miss Ethel R. Benjamin, LL.B., contributes to the 'Press's'weekly symposium an article entitled ' Women and the Study and Practice of the Law,' and thus answers the question "Is there any need for women lawyers ? " : It seems to me that they are really wanted. Is it not desirable that women should be abie to consult members of their own sex regarding the many delicate questions on which they daily have to be advised ? To the woman lawyer women can speak without reserve, and many whom modesty has compelled to suffer in silence rather than to confide their troubles to one of the opposite sex will now have tm opportunity of going to a woman for legal advice. And surely the woman lawyer will be welcomed bymany of her " fallen" sisters. The woman lawyer, with her varied knowledge of human nature-of its frailty and weakness, and many of the temptations which are placed in women's way, may be relied on to hold out her hand to her erring sisters, and to do her utmost to lead them back to the narrow path of virtue. How many women are there who having once given way to temptation long for the sympathetic advice of some innocent woman, and yet know not where to seek it ? They dread a repulse; they fear the drawing aside of the skirt, the hard pursing of the lips, the cold, hard stare, which is too often their greeting from those women who perhaps, untempted, have never vielded to temptation. But the woman lawyer will be only too familiar with the vices of humanity, and will not fear contamination from them. She will gladly hold out a helping hand to all women who have strayed from the path of right; and if the warm and sympathetic touch of the woman lawyer's baud will sometimes bring comfort to a downtrodden, heart-broken woman sinner, then, I maintain, the existence of the woman lawyer i= more than justified.
As to whether women are likely to succeed as lawyers Miss Benjamin says : As with men, there will be many failures; few successes. The profession is already overcrowded • in numbers there are assuredly more than enough lawyers already. But there is always room at the top. If women are determined to succeed; if they are diligent and pushing; if they make the most of every opportunity that presents itself sooner or later success will crown their efforts Determined men and women are not likely to fail; their very determination to succeed inspires confidence, and carries with it the conviction and assurance of success. In the study and practice of law, as in all else, there is no royal road to success. It can be reached only by hard work and perseverance, by infinite painstaking, and by untiring, concentrated effort The average woman, with average abilitv, had, I think, better leave law to her more gifted" brothers and sisters. But where a woman is specially fitted by nature for the practice of law, by all means let her become a lawyer. As Sydney bmithsays: " Be what Nature intended you for and you will succeed ; be anything else and you will be ten thousand times worse than nothing." As with men, the branches of the profession in which women will be most successful depend on the bent of their individual ability. There is no department of legal work in which I could not conceive women successful. Of course the average woman would be hopelessly at sea in intricate mercantile suits, and involved equity cases of every description, but so I take it would be the average man. In this colony it would be hardly practicable for women to devote all their attention to one or more particular departments Of legal study. Our population is not large enough • there is not sufficient ground to work on. At the same time it might not be inadvisable for women practitioners to make a specialty of those branches of the law which especially affect their own sex. Of course there are many obstacles in the way of success of women lawyers. They are a novelty and as such are regarded with jealous, distrustful eyes. Far many years the fight against prejudice will be hard and severe, and the woman lawyer must show herself more than ordinarily gifted before her ability will be recognised by the public This is true even where a woman contents herself with conveyancing and general office work, but where she strives to establish herself as a barrister her progress will be still more difficult and tardy. It will be a long time, I think, before many women achieve great things at the Bar. In the first place the rude stares of the crowded court will do their utmost to disconcert the woman pleader. When it is known that the woman barrister is to appear the courthouse will be crowded with an eager and curious throng. The ordeal will be a trying one. Caricaturists will gather there in full force. ' Tit Bits,'' Punch,' aud ' funny " papers generally will one and all be represented, each anxious to obtain a graphic "par" about the latest phase of the latest craze. Her every peculiarity exaggerated; her every fault beld up to the public gaze 1 Small wonder if under ssch trying circumstances the woman barrister fails to appear at her best—yet at her best she must appear. For her own 3ake, and for the sake of all the women who would follow in her footsteps, she must acquit herself well. She must show rrom the beginning that it is possible for women to become successful barristers. Ezperientia deed in this, as ,n all things, but if " failure" be applied to her first attempt her first chance will probably be her last. Much will then depend on her first effort. The eyes of the public will be upon her; she (and in her the woman barrister) will be on trial, and then, if ever, she must make a favorable impression.
We may hear of women engine-drivers yet. In all olasses of engineers—civil, mechanical, electrical, and mining—it seems there are 43,135 men and 127 women.
WOMEN AS LAWYERS., Issue 10423, 18 September 1897, Supplement
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