Western Mail, 8th March 2011

Today is International Women’s Day, now its 100th year, so WM asked three Welsh women to pay tribute to the remarkable females who have had a huge impact on them. Here Melanie Hamer, divorce lawyer at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice in Cardiff, chooses Baroness Brenda Hale:

She has always been a leading light for women, she holds the highest judicial position in the land and I’ve always looked up to her throughout my career.

The woman who inspires me is Brenda Hale, better known as Baroness Hale of Richmond, the only female judge in the Supreme Court.

As the first woman ever to be appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court, Lady Hale has climbed to the very top of the tree in the legal profession and has more than proved herself in what was always traditionally a male-dominated environment.

Baroness Hale is living proof that a woman can succeed, rising to the very top based purely on merit.

When I qualified as a solicitor in 1989, there had never been a female judge at the highest level, and I’ve watched as she rose through the ranks of the judiciary to become one of the first nine judges appointed to the Supreme Court, breaking every glass ceiling on the way up.

She has more than justified her appointment, and she’s never afraid to disagree with her male colleagues – her recent dissenting opinion in the landmark case of Radmacher (a case which dealt with pre-marital agreements) is an excellent example of this. I find her a true inspiration, and I’m sure a lot of other women in the legal profession feel the same way.

She made me realise that gender is no bar to achieving what you want.

She’s eloquent and humorous, and always comes across as someone for all professional women to aspire to.

I’m so used to presenting my own cases in court quoting her words, from her published judgements.

I was lucky enough to meet her in person a few years ago, when she was delivering a lecture in Bristol and hearing about her work was amazing.

The stories she told about some of the cases she’d worked on in the House of Lords were absolutely gripping.

Hearing her talk about cases where, for example, the families of British servicemen killed in action were suing the Government, everyone in the room was hanging on her every word.

But however good her lecture was, having the opportunity to meet with her before and afterwards was the true highlight, and it was so interesting to finally be able to talk face-to-face to a woman who had been an inspiration to me for so many years.

What struck me the most was how “normal” and down to earth she was. I had expected her to be 10 feet tall – but of course she wasn’t.

I also noticed that, despite her seniority, she had her handbag on her arm and talked about her children – just like the rest of us.

While I was studying law at Aberystwyth University, Lady Hale was the first woman, and youngest person ever, to be appointed to the Law Commission, meaning she was at the cutting edge of many important developments in family law, which ended up becoming my chosen field.

She was also a key judge in the case of Miller and McFarlane in 2006, a very important case in family law, and knowing a woman played such an important role was very inspiring.

I wish there were more women like her.

Her role with the Supreme Court, and the impact she’s had, is proof that women can bring a different approach.

It’s great to see a woman at the very top of their profession, and I believe that the more women there are at the top, the more women will be encouraged to follow in their footsteps, and to realise that they can achieve anything they want.