Sophie Lamb QC was the first member of her family to study at university and to enter the legal profession. When she “took silk” last year, she crossed another career threshold to join a select group of senior lawyers where women remain in the minority.
The annual Silks ceremony for Queen’s Counsel and King’s Counsel dates back more than two centuries, yet the first female QCs in the United Kingdom were only appointed in 1949. Since then, fewer than 500 women have taken silk there.
Joining their ranks last year was Sophie Lamb, global co-chair of the international arbitration group at Latham & Watkins and a member of the Africa Advisory Board of the Save the Children charity.
Resplendent in the eponymous black silk gown, a wig, silver-buckled shoes and lace accoutrements, her appointment as QC fulfilled one of her long-held ambitions.
“There is a strong sense of civic responsibility in my family. My mother was a primary school teacher in a deprived community and my decision to study law at university was shaped by the desire to be an advocate for all members of the community.”
Lamb, an LLM graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, recalls that she was not quite sure what to expect in her new career. She did not know anyone else practising as a commercial barrister and had concerns about whether such a traditional environment would be inclusive. “Having people with whom you can identify, and having mentors, is extremely important for young lawyers and for opening up the profession more generally.”
After beginning her career as a barrister in chambers at One Essex Court, she later moved to an international law firm and made partner in her early 30s. She worked closely with Lord Goldsmith QC and David Rivkin at Debevoise & Plimpton , before joining Latham & Watkins as global co-chair of the arbitration group in 2016. She is also the UK’s representative on the ICC International Court of Arbitration.
Last year she volunteered to serve on the Africa Advisory Board of Save The Children, after being exposed to the charity’s work via the annual International Arbitration Charity Ball.
“Because I am also involved and interested in governance and sustainable development, joining the board was the perfect alignment of my professional experience and personal values. It provides opportunities to advocate on critical issues such as malnutrition and climate change, where the impacts fall disproportionately on women and children.”
“Big international law firms touch almost the whole globe and I hope to leverage that to raise awareness about and support for the children of Africa.”
She believes donors to the charity can play a vital role by funding training and technological upskilling for young Africans, and virtual education in remote areas. Lamb also believes that Save the Children is particularly effective in delivering emergency relief in times of humanitarian crisis including in Africa.
“I returned home after eight weeks of regular overseas travel recently and my daughter wanted to know what exactly I do at work. It’s quite hard to identify a ‘typical’ work day or week, but in recent months I have conducted hearings at the World Bank in Washington, spoken at conferences in Asia, I attended the United Nations for the high level political summit on the Sustainable Development Goals. I have been involved in pro bono work involving statelessness and trafficking and now I am back preparing for an appeal in Hong Kong early next year and a case in the UK Supreme Court. Every day brings something different.”
Away from work, she likes to unwind with her family and two dogs in Dorset. Cricket is also a big passion: “Cricket brings communities together and is inclusive. It cuts across class and culture and, significantly for my 15-year-old daughter, women’s cricket is now enormously successful and visible.”
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