Mahla Pearlman

Published 26th Feb 2018

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.


Raised eyebrows  

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