The gala dinner also saw the launch of the IWLA’s new vision statement, which, by 2021, aims to make the organisation the foremost, public-facing voice for women lawyers in Ireland.
“We would love to have more people involved,” chair Maeve Delargy (Arthur Cox) told Gazette.ie.
She is looking forward to engaging with new members, as part of its mission to be an advocate both for women in law, and for changes to the law for women.
The evening’s highlight was the presentation of the ‘Irish Woman Lawyer of the Year’ award to Ms Justice Ring by Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness.
Ms Justice Ring thanked the IWLA for the “humbling honour”, and complimented the committee on its unseen work.
“An honour such as this tends to signify advancing age,” she quipped, “but it’s a step up from a posthumous award!”
Ms Justice Ring was called to the Bar in 1985 and practised in criminal, administrative and child law.
She was called to the Inner Bar in 2002. She became a judge of the Circuit Court in April 2012; and of the High Court in July 2015.
She was named chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in July 2015.
Right place, right time
Ms Justice Ring recalled that she studied politics and philosophy as an undergraduate at UCD, where she “had a ball”, having moved to Ireland after growing up in the US.
She studied law at the College of Commerce in Rathmines (now DIT), before enrolling at the King’s Inns.
The judge described how she had wanted to practice in criminal law, despite being warned that women didn’t succeed in that area.
“I never thought I couldn’t do criminal law,” she said, recalling how she loved Perry Mason as a child.
“In any woman’s career, sometimes being in the right place at the right time is as important as ability,” she said, describing how doors had opened for her while devilling at the Law Library.
“Ultimately, you have to capitalise on the right place and right moment, but chance and luck do help,” she observed.
"When I arrived [at the Law Library] in 1985, I saw before me the likes of Mary Robinson, Mary Laffoy, Mary Finlay, Mary Irvine and Mary O’Toole, and I knew that my name meant that the omens were good,” she quipped.
A game we don’t want to play?
Ms Justice Ring commented that women had only been peripherally involved in the construction of the rules of business, governance, the professions, and of life outside the home.
“What woman would design a work-life that wasn’t flexible to allow time out for caring for others, whether children, family or friends?” she asked.
“Perhaps we women spend too much time breaking a glass ceiling in an edifice we did not build,” she said.
“Are we spending too much time trying to change the rules of a game we maybe don’t want to play?” she asked.
“Are women the only ones who want a flexible work-life, a more balanced life? I don’t think so,” she said.
“Each path is important, and there is no right or wrong path”, she added, “but there must be a path in the first place – for both women and men.
“Deciding you are not going to juggle children and work is just as important as deciding you are,” she said.
"Not going for promotion now, because it doesn’t suit, is just as important as deciding you are going for promotion.
“Giving way to a partner’s career is as important as both going forward.
“And standing still can be really relaxing,” she smiled.
The important thing, ultimately, is to do your best and have a great time doing it, she concluded.
Ms Justice Ring’s finishing toast to “building new houses rather than breaking glass ceilings” received a standing ovation.
Members of the judiciary in attendance included Ms Justice Marie Baker, Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus, Chief State Solicitor Maria Browne.
Also in attendance were Circuit Court Judges Petria McDonnell, Susan Ryan, Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin, Karen Fergus and Sarah Berkeley.
Further presentations were made to 2015-2017 IWLA chair Aoife McNickle BL and to Maura Butler, solicitor and course manager at the Law Society, who recently stepped down from the committee after 16 years.
A warm tribute was paid to Maura for her sterling work by Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.