Women in the Legal Profession

Women in the Legal Profession

According to the Annual Review of Law and Social Science:

Women’s entry and rising representation in the legal profession is one of the most remarkable, some claim “revolutionary”, changes to the legal profession over the past 150 years.

Although acknowledging that more females are entering into the legal profession, some have argued that it is not enough to fix the wider problem of suitable role models to inspire younger women to succeed. According to Girlguiding UK, 55 per cent of girls aged between 11-21 years feel that there are not many role models for them in society. As partner at the European law firm Dechert LLP, Miriam González Durántez (also the wife of Nick Clegg), states:

In a matter of minutes, I could offer you a list of hundreds of inspirational women. Not all of them dress in Prada (though some do), and not all of them appear in glossy magazines. But that does not make them any less impressive, interesting, strong [and] accomplished…

According to CNN, only 15 per cent of female lawyers make partner in law firms in the US. Britain’s most senior female judge, Baroness Hale, is of the view that the legal profession cannot handle talented women:

Women are stereotyped as kind, warm, emotional, gentle and not having quite what it takes to tackle tough decisions.

The Law Society states that 47 per cent of solicitors and 35 per cent of barristers are women. Additionally, 12 per cent of the Queen’s Counsel are women.

Baroness Hale continues and states that encouraging women into the legal profession will resolve the problem:

There are an awful lot of unconscious assumptions and judgements that are made when people don’t realise that that’s what they’re doing. The more used they are to having women, and people from ethnic minorities, around, the less that’s a problem because they know how we behave. But if you hardly ever see a woman, you don’t really know how to assess somebody who’s a candidate.

In 1994, Baroness Hale was first High Court Judge from a legal academic background. She has expressed her view on the issue of gender stereotypes in law:

It is tiring to have to be talking about why we have so few women in the higher ranks of the judiciary in this country when most countries in the world have solved the problem. It is a bore. I would like us not to have to talk about it, but we do have to talk about it because the present situation is terrible.

Although there has been much criticism on the lack of female lawyers, The Guardian states that the legal profession is changing. Law firms need to accommodate women if they wish to spend time with their family. Nicky Richmond, a managing partner of Brecher LLP, uses her law firm as an illustration, maintaining that it accommodates its lawyers well to retain equality within the firm. She states that its lawyers work on a part-time basis, some even working from home rather than from the office.

It is not just in the legal profession that there is a lack of women. Sexism is also an issue in other professions as well. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, explains how women have been scrutinised and belittled in various professions as demonstrated by the statement made by a University of Toronto professor who affirmed that he is ‘not interested in teaching books by women.’ Furthermore, there is the issue of men using sexism as a form of humour, as was the case of Boris Johnson who once stated that women only attend university to meet their husbands or the conductor Vasily Petrenko, who stated that ‘…men will always be superior conductors’.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that women are slowly beginning to achieve parity in the legal profession. However, there is still a long way to go until women are represented in the more senior positions within law such as becoming firm partners or members of the judiciary.

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