Gender diversity in the legal profession
February 26, 2019 4:27 pm Published by

Gender diversity and opportunities for women in law

The JUVE-Azur Awards are presented to a German law firm, among other things, for diversity. The “Maria Otto Prize”, which has been awarded three times since 2010 by the German Bar Association, also honours female lawyers who have rendered outstanding services to the equality of women in the legal profession. The same goes for the promotion prize in the executive assessment for female law students and young lawyers, Panda University Law, which aims to support young female executives and future partners in the legal sector from the beginning of their careers.

Is this really still necessary today?

After all, for almost a hundred years now, women have been able to become lawyers just like men in Germany. For some years, German universities have been producing almost as many lawyers as women lawyers.

Is gender diversity and equity still a topic of discussion in the legal professions? Has equality not been established here for a long time?

According to the Federal Statistical Office, more than half of law students were female in 2017: Around 56 percent, i.e. 64,833 out of a total of 116,217 law students, the number of female lawyers in Germany has also been rising steadily for years. While in 1970, according to statistics from the Federal Bar Association (BRAK), only 4.5percent of the 23,000 lawyers were women.

48 years later the picture has changed dramatically. By 2018 the BRAK noted 164,656 lawyers in Germany. 57,251 of whom were women – more than a third. Not only has the number of lawyers increased significantly since 1970, the beginning of the BRAK survey, but the quota of women has also grown exponentially. Furthermore, of the 165,000 lawyers admitted to the bar in Germany, 35% are now women. A pleasing number and definitely in line with the trend, if we compare the figures with those of our neighbouring countries. The future study by the German Bar Association in 2013 predicts that these proportions will be equalised within the next ten years.

Gender diversity in the legal sector is unlikely to conflict with anything, one might think. So why are special efforts in this area and their awarding at all necessary?

In management and decision-making positions, in representative functions and offices, as well as at industry events and conferences, female lawyers still play hardly any role. Even today, legal symposia are still held, the executive committee of which consists exclusively of men. No wonder: The proportion of female lawyers inmanagement positions and at partner level is still below 10 % throughout Germany, potentially even falling. The largest German law firms appointed only 6 women out of 50 new partners in 2019. They had quite ambitious goals. Many wanted to achieve a share of women of between 25-30%.

Ambitious goals (for Germany)

What is remarkable here is that these figures have actually been achieved by the global players – but in Germany they were far behind. And this despite the fact that the criteria are identical (worldwide and also for men and women). Furthermore there is no shortage of ambitious female lawyers who meet the “full war paint” requirements with all the prerequisites.

A solution and an occasion

It was not until 2014 that the Working Group of Women Lawyers of the German Bar Association (DAV) was able to achieve that at least a small percentage of the events of the German Bar Association (Deutscher Anwaltverein) and the German Bar Academy (Deutsche Anwaltsakademie) were deliberately staffed by female lecturers, after having been a purely male domain for years. The occasion was probably also the DAV forum “Women Leaders Today and Tomorrow”, which took place for the first time in Berlin and made the last position of German female lawyers in an international comparison clear.

Unfortunately, gender diversity did not yet seem to be an issue for the legal sector in Germany.

Other sectors, on the other hand, have long since recognised this:

In special cases, the police use policewomen specifically to de-escalate. The fact that mixed teams of decision-makers are acting more innovatively and more successfully in economic terms is particularly well received by the business community. Criteria by which law firms must also be measured.

And indeed, even clients from the legal sector are already demanding it:

Corporate legal departments consciously decide to commission only external legal advisors with equally mixed teams. And in certain particularly sensitive areas of law such as family law, it is anything but irrelevant to the individual client whether he or she is represented by a lawyer.

If a law firm wants to be successful and fit for the future, it will not be able to ignore the issues of gender diversity and equality.

A point that should not be ignored either:

Universities already train 50% of female law students, a not inconsiderable state investment, as each law student costs the state 4,560 euros a year. Which branch of industry can still afford to do without highly qualified employees who would also contribute the success factor of diversification?

So what would happen if gender diversity in the legal profession were no longer just closed off, but consciously applied?

It is a fact that women and men, due to their biological and physiological dispositions, typically absorb and process information in different quantities and qualities. This has become flesh and blood because of the millennia-old imprint on typical gender roles. Women tend to have a panoramic view, are concerned about the welfare of the general public and focus their approach on negotiation and agreement. Men, on the other hand, tend to act with a tunnel vision in an emergency. This makes them (apparently) faster, but they actually only decide in two dimensions between attack and running away. Both of these factors severely restrict our options for action, at least when we communicate typically male or typically female. Typical” is nothing other than what we once defined as female and male with regard to gender roles. Communication itself is neutral.

What does this mean for lawyers?

The legal profession requires a high level of communication skills, but this is not explicitly promoted either in legal training or when starting a career. The same applies to soft skills such as emotional intelligence, intellectual flexibility, and cultural awareness. To ignore the “typically female gaze” and “typically female” communication patterns and characteristics would be to act with only half the force. Some of the top 10 law firms have already recognized this and promote it with targeted programms such as Freshfields, Bruckhaus and Deringer.

If the legal sector continues to close its ranks to the topic of gender diversity, it is to be feared that it will ignore social reality and lose confidence in its professional competence.

Dr. Geertje Tutschka, CLP -Consulting for Legal Professionals