Special Edition It’s Time to Q&A- International Women’s Day

Special Edition: An Interview with Gray’s Inn Chief of Staff –

Sam Hutchinson

Q – What’s your role at Gray’s Inn?

A – I am the Chief of Staff, a role that works across the whole organisation, with all departments, to ensure projects and initiatives run smoothly and staff are connected. I collaboratively stick my nose into everyone’s business to try and know a little of what is going on across the whole Inn. If I don’t know the answer, I will know who does. The role is varied and no day is the same – I could be delivering a VIP tour, supporting a delegation of our Members overseas or liaising with our valued residents and tenants. 


Q – What is Gray’s Inn and how has the institution come about to become what it is today?

A – Gray’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court which have the exclusive right to call individuals to the Bar of England and Wales. We’re over six hundred years old and our overriding purpose is educational – we exist to support, educate and develop our student Members and to provide continuing professional development to barrister Members. We promote the rule of law, access to justice, equality, diversity and inclusion and a vision of a modern, independent and internationally active Bar.

We are proud of our history, but we are a forward thinking organisation investing in supporting our Members. Along with a full programme of social, cultural and educational activities and access to facilities such as our world class legal Library, the Inn gives away around £1.4 million each year to support students pursuing a career at the Bar and help ensure that those with the skill and talent can make it at the Bar regardless of background. 


Q – Can you share any notable stories or examples of pioneering women who were associated with Gray’s Inn?

A – My mind immediately goes to Edith Hesling, the first woman Called to the Bar by the Inn in 1923 and the first woman to preside over a County Court. In 2023 we commissioned a film and ran events celebrating 100 Years of Women at Gray’s Inn, featuring a series of women trailblazers from the past and present.  Edith’s great granddaughter is also a Member of the Inn today so there has very much been an intergenerational impact from this remarkable individual.



No history of woman at Gray’s Inn would be complete without mention of Rose Heilbron. Called in 1939 she was the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn, one of the first two women appointed to be King’s Counsel , the first woman to lead in a murder case, first woman Recorder and first woman judge at the Old Bailey. She was also the first women Treasurer of the Inn in 1985 and now has several portraits and a room named after her here.

After these two pioneers the list grows – Francis Wright the first Sierra Leonean woman to be called to the Bar, Venetia Stephenson the first woman to appear for the defence in a murder trial, Grace Amakye the first black African woman appointed as a Recorder, Brenda Hale the first female President of the Supreme Court and so many more.

Q – What were some of the challenges faced by women who sought to become members or participate in activities at Gray’s Inn?

A – Once women were admitted to the Inn, for a long time the Inn’s forms still only provided masculine pronouns of he/him/his. This has stuck with me.  For our early women Members I’m sure it felt significant – both to see the stationary unchanged despite the law changing but also to see that their personal accomplishment was overturning centuries of a male dominated profession.


Q – Can you discuss any initiatives or programs currently in place at Gray’s Inn to support and promote the inclusion of women in the legal profession?

A – Gray’s is a Member of the Inns of Court Alliance for Women which exists to encourage and support women throughout their careers and to increase retention and diversity within the profession. Women still face challenges and barriers to career progression and the Alliance looks to address that as well as other topics such as judicial bullying and how to tackle the gender pay gap.

There are some extremely formidable talents at Gray’s who will shape the Inn and legal system in the coming years. We do all we can to support the next generation via mock interviews, mentorship programmes, connecting them to judges and other practitioners, the Scholarships programme and more.

We’ve also got a really interesting project around portraits at the moment, which is looking at how we can ensure that the images of members on the walls reflect the diversity of our Membership and their successes. This includes commissioning new oil paintings as well as photo projects.


Q – Looking back at the journey of women at Gray’s Inn, what do you think we can learn from their experiences, and how do you envision the future for women in the legal profession?

A – I think we can learn from their dedication, grit and sheer force of will to push against conventions, society  and institutions, to change them for the better. In the decades following the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 women still faced huge barriers in the legal profession and, sadly, some still exist. I can’t imagine a Chambers would say they can’t take on women pupils now because they only have a gents toilets (as happened in the all too recent past), but other obstacles are still there around access to work which means access to equal pay.

When I hear about issues like that I take comfort from the talented, diverse and  dedicated women at Gray’s Inn and know that just as our early pioneers didn’t accept such unfairness, they will not either.