Women in Law Conference Calls for Action
March 8, 2019 3:25 pm Published by

Women in Law Conference calls for action

From March 1-3, Vienna held its first international Women in Law Conference – the first convention of this kind in Central Europe. It focused on a diagnosis of the situation of women in the legal professions and on together developing ways to accelerate progress in this area.

The fact that Austria was chosen as the host country is very fitting, as this nation is lagging behind when it comes to gender equality. According to a study by the European Parliament, Austrian women attorneys are outnumbered by their male colleagues five (!) to one. The conference organizer, Dr. Alix Frank-Thomasser, finds this more than paradoxical.

“We face a majority of women studying law and we [attorneys] train a majority of women to become lawyers”

Dr. Alix Frank-Thomasser

What is it, then, that keeps women from becoming attorneys?

The reasons were easily found. In Austria, raising children is still largely a women’s matter – which is only with great difficulty reconcilable with the professional image of an Austrian attorney. If they want to climb the corporate ladder, young lawyers are often required to work until late in the evenings, particularly in large law firms. With a far more than 40-hour work week, there is simply not enough time left to spend with one’s family. This is why young women lawyers-in-training are often explicitly discouraged from having children if they want to “achieve something” – the message being that you cannot have both.

Having children before your 30th birthday, as many would like to do, is very difficult for future women attorneys for various reasons. The first step, studying law, easily takes five years (and often longer), and a further five (!) years of professional experience are required to become a member of the bar. This is a very lengthy training compared to other European countries like Germany and the UK, where only two years of post-graduation professional experience are required.

What barriers are women facing?

One possibility to work flexibly and independently would be self-employment. Yet women attorneys with families face almost insurmountable obstacles in this area. The costs of establishing a law firm are very high, and the membership fees of the Austrian Bar Associations are also a great hurdle. In contrast to Germany, freezing or reducing the business of a law firm is virtually impossible, even for a short time.

Considering all of this, it is not surprising that young women law graduates prefer to become judges – an approximately equal amount of men and women work in this much more family-friendly profession. The Women in Law Conference 2019 therefore calls on Austrian politicians, the Austrian Bar Associations and the decision-makers in the law firms to actively eliminate the obstacles described above. For one, this is because a profession cannot afford to forgo women’s talents and only promote men. Also, a certain sense of right and wrong should not be out of place in the legal professions.