Dana Denis-Smith

Dana Denis-Smith

Founder at First 100 Years

On the project and the journey of women in the legal profession

Last week was a special week for the First 100 Years project as our filming schedule took us to Herbert Smith Freehills to film Dorothy Livingston, the inspiration behind the campaign. It was a photograph of a group of firm partners from 1982 which featured Dorothy as the only female partner in the firm at the time that captivated me and motivated me to found the project soon after coming across it. I was keen to find out her story and how did she feel to be the only one?

The First 100 Years was born out of a desire to shift the debate around gender diversity in the legal profession. We wanted to focus on achievements and aspiration as opposed to monitoring the slow pace of progress to date. I founded this five-year project with the aim of creating the UK’s first digital museum dedicated to the history of women in law. The digital museum, hosted at www.first100years.org.uk, will include an online library of 100 original videos and hundreds of photographs, stories and artefacts about women who have shaped the legal profession since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers to present day.

Our crew has filmed some of the most amazing women of their generation, from Baroness Hale to Baroness Kennedy or Dame Janet Gaymer or the late Frances Murphy – women with pioneering roots that persevered professionally to get to the top.

After a foundation year, in which we secured the support of all professional bodies and the judiciary, the project launched officially in 2015 at the House of Lords in front of nearly 100 supporters from across the legal profession and has since been building the largest collection of stories and videos of the history of women in law in the UK, all hosted on a digital platform. As support from all corners of the profession has grown since then The First 100 Years has blossomed into an absolute celebration of women’s role in the profession, with an extensive programme of activities and events planned in the run-up to the centenary of the Act in 2019. In June the parent of the project – Spark 21 – was also awarded charitable status so that we can now focus on education, research and starting to shape the future for women in law. Our flagship conference, Spark21, is being hosted by Simmons and Simmons on 9 November and will be chaired by BBC Woman’s Hour Dame Jenni Murray.

How can you get involved?

Send us your story or nominate an inspiring woman

With the support of The Law Society, the Bar Council, CiLex, among others, the project is looking to hear from all members of the profession about women that inspired their careers, as well as building a comprehensive timeline of women’s rise in the profession by discovering law firm heritage, including any early pioneers or firsts for women. You can nominate yourself or someone you know. The project is also searching for biographies, photographs and stories of inspirational women across the last 95 years.

Annual fundraising target of £100,000 until 2019

The project is also looking for corporate sponsors to help us to deliver 100 films by 2019. Our bank of videos to date (most of which have been edited and are free to watch on our Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErS8JmJjQ0yf8Ku4P4skfA) is varied – from Dame Linda Dobbs, to Baroness Hale, Baroness Kennedy or Dame Janet Gaymer.

Our corporate sponsors can choose a range of annual packages from sponsoring a film (£3,500) to special participation at events (at the lower end, £500). For this year alone we have fundraised £22,000 from our supporters and are now looking to achieve our annual budget of £100,000. So if you or your firm can help us, please get in touch with the project team.