Mahla Pearlman followed Anne Plotke on to the Law Society Council in 1976.
Pearlman became the Law Society of NSW’s first female president in 1981. She would establish a number of other
firsts: first female representative of the Solicitors Admission Board, first female President of the Law Council of Australia (1989) and first female head of a NSW court when she was appointed President of the Land and Environment Court in 1992.
She delighted in recounting how an unnamed barrister had sent her a copy of the Evidence Act, reflecting a long-standing joke at the Bar that solicitors did not know anything about evidence.
When she handed over the reins of the Society to Don McLachlan a year later, he told members:
“It would not surprise me to learn that 12 months ago a number of the members of this Society raised their eyebrows when they first learned that a woman president had been elected. However, there was no member of this Council who did that, because each member knew a good solicitor when he saw one.
“Mahla, I know it is one of your beliefs about solicitors that it does not matter whether you are a woman or a man, the important thing is that you should be a good, competent solicitor …you are a most competent solicitor and you have been a most competent president.”
Family or career
Pearlman, who died in 2011 aged 74, had known things would be easier for those who followed – most importantly, that they would not feel they had to choose between career and family.
“I don’t think I could have had my career over these 30 years if I had married,” she said. “You could do it now, though.”
Extracted from Defending the Rights of All: A History of the Law Society of NSW by Michael Pelly and Caroline Pierce