Why is the legal profession so careless of its women? It’s no secret that too many women leave before they make it to partner, frustrated or put off by punishing hours, targets and a culture which is often incompatible with family life.
Almost more galling than this is that it is not simply people making the wrong career choice choosing to walk, it’s often the most highly skilled, experienced and dedicated lawyers who go – and that’s a huge waste, from both a personal and professional perspective.
What does the data say?
According to the Law Society’s Annual Statistics Report for 2017 women made up a sizeable majority of trainee registrations at 62.3% and for the first time ever that year, the number of working female solicitors in England and Wales exceeded men (62%).
Fast forward four years and the SRA’s 2021 diversity survey found that there were significant differences in diversity according to the size of the law firm and by type of work.
Although 61% of solicitors are female, just 35% of partners are women (up from 34% in 2019).
And while women are underrepresented at partner level in firms of all sizes, this is to a greater extent in the largest law firms.
Partnership is not the answer
There’s no doubt that the legal sector has done a lot of soul searching in recent years to try and get to the root cause of all these “lost women”. It’s clear that the factors at play are complex and there is no magic bullet.
However, some obvious reasons include: a lack of affordable childcare, a culture incompatible with family life, a lack of female role models and a lack of targeted support for women to thrive in the “big law firm” legal environment.
Many traditional law firms have expended much effort and resource on initiatives to encourage women to stay and it would be wrong not to acknowledge that there have been modest improvements recently.
New model law firms can work better for women
However, all this assumes that partnership is the answer. At nexa we think there is another way.
As a new model law firm, we can offer all our lawyers a satisfying legal career in a supportive community of like-minded professionals, but with the freedom to work how they want to work.
That means the freedom to do the school-run and not feel guilty about leaving early (for whatever reason). The autonomy to work for the clients you want to work for and, of course, no pressure to meet targets or clock up the hours in the evening doing business development (if you don’t want to!).
We are proud champions of 2to3days; a collective of impassioned individuals who are deeply committed to championing women’s equality and inclusivity in the workplace. We think flexible working in all its guises is the key to accelerating change.
At nexa we believe happy lawyers make happy clients and we strive to keep this simple philosophy at the heart of all we do – happy international women’s day!