Centenary of First Woman Admitted to German Bar

On this day one hundred years ago, on 7 December 1922, Maria Otto (* 6 August 1892; † 20 December 1977) was admitted to the German bar (Rechtsanwaltschaft). She had obtained her law degree at Würzburg University already in 1916. However, she was not admitted to the practical legal training leading to the Second State Exam that was (and today still is) required to either qualify as a judge or to be admitted to the bar. In 1920, Maria Otto obtained a doctorate in law – the title of her thesis strikes me as rather modern: International Legal Protection Against Unfair Competition (Der internationale Rechtsschutz gegen unlauteren Wettbewerb).

The admission rules were liberalised in the Weimar Republic. Some federal states no longer excluded women from the Second State Exam. In February 1922, Maria Otto was allowed to sit the exam in Bavaria. Her admission to the exam came with the proviso that upon passing the exam, unlike her male fellow students she would not be deemed qualified to become a judge or to serve as a legal officer within the public administration.

In June 1922, Maria Otto became the first woman to pass the exam. In November 1922, the Law on the Admission of Women to the Legal Professions,  (Gesetz über die Zulassung der Frauen zu den Ämtern und Berufen der Rechtspflege), introduced during Gustav Radbruch’s tenure as Minister for Justice, came into force. Maria Otto was admitted to the Munich bar on 7 December 1922. She practiced law until her death in 1977.

In 1927, five years after Maria Otto had been admitted to the bar, Maria Hagemeyer was the first woman to be appointed as a judge, serving in the Bonn courts. As it happens, 1922 was also the year that saw the first women barristers and solicitors admitted to practice in England.

In 2010, the German Bar Association created the Maria Otto Prize, which is awarded to outstanding  female lawyers. The first recipient of that prize was Gisela Wild, a long-time partner in Taylor Wessing’s  Hamburg office. See here for a more extensive biography of Maria Otto (in German).

Photo: Philipp Kester, Philipp Kester, Maria OttoCC BY-SA 4.0

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