ALL hail Lady Hale, the brightest star in the legal firmament. Boris Johnson’s nemesis, this quietly spoken judge rocketed to fame with her measured, steely demeanour as president of the Supreme Court during the ruling on the government’s unlawful proroguing of parliament.

Those of us unfamiliar with the English judiciary had probably never heard of her until a couple of weeks ago, but as the arc lamp of publicity was turned in her direction and newspaper profiles proliferated, every word Brenda Hale spoke was hoovered up. People were particularly fascinated, it seemed, in her arresting collection of jewelled insect brooches. Yet what has struck me is her advice on how a woman can reach the top of her profession.

Lady Hale offered her hard-won guidance at the launch of a group called Cambridge Women in Law. A graduate of Girton College, she told those following in her footsteps that few females can reach the upper echelons of the male-dominated legal world entirely by their own efforts. For starters, they will be battling against an engrained masculine sense of entitlement that puts them at an immediate disadvantage. Even more significant, however, is their domestic situation. “Probably the most important thing when you are making your way as a woman in the law is to choose the right partner”, she said, doubtless making some of her listeners delete their last text message demanding to know what time they’d be home to make dinner.

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Twice married, Hale was quick to note that her first husband as well as her second had been completely supportive. Despite all her intellectual and emotional capabilities, which in a perfect universe would catapult her and those like her to stardom whatever their personal circumstances, she was unequivocal. The choice of whether to have a life partner, and who that partner is, will prove vital to a woman’s advancement. Clearly, what holds for the law is equally true for other walks of life. Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully – and I mean fully – supportive of her career.”

You need only think of Philip May, acting discreetly behind the arras as Theresa May’s unofficial consigliere to see this principle borne out. While the PM negotiated the most difficult job in Europe, grafting into the small hours, and on call night and day, he provided the psychological underpinning, or scaffolding, on which she stood. That ultimately her plans imploded does not diminish the fact that without his bolstering presence, his enabling faith in her ability to carry on, she would not have had the mental strength to persevere to the bitter end.

Finding a partner who will be wholly encouraging isn’t easy. Too often the romantic knot has been tied long before the pressures of a woman’s career begin to escalate. If by then a couple have children, it takes deep pockets to pay for household help and childcare while two demanding vocations are conducted at full throttle, or an unusually far-sighted and self-abnegating companion prepared to put their own job, and ego, into cold storage for a few years.

Such individuals do exist, but finding him or her, while in the first flush of youth, takes greater maturity than most possess. Conversely, by the time a woman is older, wiser, and more established in her role, the biological clock can be ticking so loudly it drowns out common sense when getting hitched. Add to this the fact that women in all-consuming careers, such as medicine, law or the media, tend to get involved with those in equally full-on occupations, with similarly vaulting ambitions.

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Lady Hale’s comments will have struck a nerve with many working women. You can picture them, conducting a silent audit on their partners over the toast and marmalade, wondering if they fall into the category of clinging ivy or storm-proof trellis. Yet the evidence of those who reach the top has been there all along, and what this high-flying judge says should come as no surprise.

As far back as the 1820s the brilliant mathematician Mary Somerville flourished because her second husband recognised her talent and gave her space to pursue her ideas. She still had to make sure the children were cared for, and was obliged to drop everything when guests unexpectedly called, but by the standards of the day her spouse’s attitudes were truly enlightened. Pierre Curie was another such enabler, while closer to our own times there has been no more devoted partner than Denis Thatcher or George Clooney, each treating his other half’s ambitions with absolute seriousness.

Weary of being an invisible launch-pad, some women like to quip: “Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes”. Yet one of the questions Hale’s speech raises is whether or not men who aspire to be top dog are equally reliant on a partner’s support. Could it be that, even in these more egalitarian times, women are more in need of a human coat of armour than men?

Like it or not, a high-powered position is not easy to sustain, whether you’re male or female. The toll on those at home is heavy. For true harmony, a household has room for only one stratospheric performer. Yet the back-up and moral support essential to someone’s professional success is not the mundane business of stocking the fridge or doing the laundry, necessary though these are. Five-star house-keeping alone is not enough.

If a partnership functions like a Swiss watch, each cog performing its assigned role and never missing a beat, it’ll soon run into trouble if there isn’t something more nourishing keeping it ticking. Surely it’s the deep emotional connection with a loved one, and the intellectual stimulation essential to a good relationship, that help a person achieve their best?

I will concede that most women probably need more overt confidence-boosting. Yet given the dearth of us at the pinnacle of whatever profession you care to name, it’s far too soon to know whether those who reach the uppermost rungs need more unconditional back-up from their partners than men. Personally, I can’t see why there would be much difference. For the moment, though, you could say that on this subject the jury is still out.