Feminizing the field of law
January 17, 2019 3:38 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Feminizing the field of law


Roughly half of all law graduates are women, many of them at the top of their class. Those who start a career in law leave their job and even the legal field entirely twice as often as their male counterparts. As a result the representation of women in senior partner and leadership roles, also in universities, is not nearly where it could and should be. Staying in law often means a reduced opportunity for promotions and considerably less remuneration in comparison to male colleagues.  

So if one is not inclined to put the blame entirely on law being a predominantly white, male profession, what are the underlying causes that push women out of practicing law?

The first and most obvious reason is that women to this day still carry the bulk of domestic and child-rearing tasks. Giving birth and spending time at home afterwards to take care of a child, establishing a nourishing, natural bond seems to be contradictory to being there for clients 24/7. The modern work environment, which is becoming more competitive by the minute, favours those who do not take maternity leaves. Available partnership slots are more likely to be filled with colleagues who prioritize their client’s welfare.

Another reason is an established personal profile most lawyers fit into. Attributes such as introversion, low empathy, high skepticism, high pessimism and low sociability are often used to describe those in the legal field.

Stereotypes

But it is also well known that those traits are not often used as stereotypical female characteristics. Things like empathy, a keenness to emotional clues, striving for harmony come to mind more likely, when thinking about women, including those in the legal field. As a consequence of this different basic setup, the vision of fairness is distinct from those of stereotypical male legal practitioners. The consideration of the client’s individual circumstances and the objective to meet as many of their goals leads to a different solution in crafting treatments which is even tailored to the client’s emotional needs. It is difficult to catch that sort of work in “across the board rules”, which are stereotypically preferred by the male side.

Also stereotypical female attributes benefit a law firm in those areas where “people skills” are crucial. Successful recruiting, diversity, associate development, conflict resolution within the firm and third parties. But it is in building a strong, successful and lasting relationship with clients where those skills are used at best. You always want a client who is comfortable in employing your services and hesitating long and hard before contacting another firm.

Time for a new paradigm

So it may be time for a paradigm shift in the legal profession. Instead of forcing women (and men) to assume typically male characteristics it is time to open the way we work in the legal field to other influences. Maybe restraining the emergence of excessive competition and striving for a more balanced work environment. There should be new models that make it easier to take care of a family at home and also be able to accommodate your clients in an effective way. Also it ought tobe a joint effort of women and men to abolish the restraints keeping all those in the legal field from having the work life they studied hard for and the family life they envision.