the field of law
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.
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.
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.
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.