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The XX factor: Why are female lawyers failing to reach the top?

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NZ Lawyer | 03 Mar 2014, 08:00 a.m. Agree 0
More than half of new entrants to the New Zealand legal industry are women, so why do partnerships remain so heavily male-dominated?
  • BL | 03 Mar 2014, 10:05 a.m. Agree 0
    I am a senior male lawyer, and I definitely agree there is a culture of women leaving firms, either to inhouse or out of the profession altogether. There is also a trend of men leaving for very similar reasons as those listed.

    The fact is that in most firms, partners are seldom made up for their legal abilities but for their rain making abilities. Certainly management skills have zero impact on partnership as any junior managed by a lawyer can testify.

    I think many women (and a sizeable minority of men) would like to stay in firms but without the business development pressure. That is like having two jobs and many Gen X/Y are making a decision to spend time with family rather than at client events. Maybe less money (by legal standards) and more specialised roles would suit Gen X/Y lawyers better. I dont know if we have the huge material ambitions that many Baby Boomers have.

    I wonder if there shouldnt be more opportunities for senior lawyers to stay on in a more technical/management role - now it is either up or out. Rain makers should be paid more than these technical lawyers as they are bringing in the clients.
  • GB | 03 Mar 2014, 10:27 a.m. Agree 0
    I am a female lawyer who has recently left a major law firm to work inhouse and focus on starting a family. While I consider myself a feminist, I don't believe that females being unrepresented at the partnership level is a problem because of what partnership represents.

    All my life, I have grown up being told that I can have it all, but the reality is that I can't. To become a partner in a major law firm, there has to be sacrifice. Typically this involves sacrificng time with friends and family to focus on reaching the mythical status of partner.

    For me, sacrifice means giving up something good, for something better. I don't believe it stacks up at present, and it is this that needs to change. I am not saying this to undercut all the wonderful examples of female partners we have in the profession at the moment, I just believe there needs to be more flexiblity in work arrangements to keep women in the profession.
  • CMO | 17 Mar 2014, 05:50 a.m. Agree 0
    What nonsense. I am female and used to work in a firm and now I am responsible for recommending legal partners and law firms. Bottom line is I will never recommend anyone at a firm who works part time male or female. My clients don't work part time and neither can anyone serious about their profession.
  • LJD | 19 Mar 2014, 11:10 a.m. Agree 0
    CMO do you have children? Have you tried doing a school drop off for under 10 year olds, getting into the office, trying to get someone to pick them up at 3pm or organise after school care and then having to dash to pick them up when soemone can't do it? That's without trying to organise care over school holidays! Male counterparts do not have the same domestic responsibilities and can put in the 60 hours a week required of them. I am sure there are many female lawyers who are committed to their profession and would love to work full time but just cannot do it because of childcare responsibilities. I have over 10 years experience in the UK working on some big property development projects in Central London with major developers, have represented clients in the Enviroment Court and then requalified in NZ and have 9 years NZ experience. I am lucky enough to have an employer who lets me work part time. Clients know they can call me on my mobile and can email me - with smartphones you can keep in contact. Our support staff know what is going on with all my files and we all work as a team which is how it should be!
  • CMO | 20 Mar 2014, 04:27 a.m. Agree 0
    Does it matter if I have children or not (and I do not)?

    That's all very well and good but yes you cannot attend to clients full time and do all that. Which is my point. I have a choice of recommending an equally qualified male or woman with no children and one who works part time with all those other responsibilities then guess who I am going to choose? Unless the woman is a sensational lawyer others will do as well, they are just not upfront about it.
  • KZW | 20 Mar 2014, 02:30 p.m. Agree 0
    I have worked in a big U.S. law firm as well as a smaller N.Z. law firm but none of them has been courageous enough to keep a mother of young children like me. I was even called a "trail blazer" and a "guinea pig" by a recruiter after I got a part time solicitor job... only to be pushed side ways short time afterwards. I am glad that they did!

    I understand that the Big Business is still stuck in the "Open-for-Business-24/7" mentality and is not willing to explore other options of how this can be achieved other than the traditional "Face Time".

    There is a parallel word where flexible and remote work IS done and working fine. I am now a happy member of a suburban general practice with clients who are "normal" people with lives and families like mine. These people understand how life works.

    I still do full time business on part time hours. I use smartphone/mobile technology to work for me and my clients and do not need to be in the office 24/7. Something that the big firms are light years away from! Can anybody explain this??
  • Don | 20 Mar 2014, 03:32 p.m. Agree 0
    We should not accept that the practice of law at senior levels is open only to people who choose not to have children, or to delegate the parenting of them. It is wrong to encourage young lawyers to plan their adult lives on the basis that they must give work first priority. It is harmful to encourage employers to hire only employees prepared to do that. It is foolish to encourage clients to expect a level of service that can only be delivered by such one-dimensional people
  • Jackie | 26 Mar 2014, 10:43 a.m. Agree 0
    Don, you are absolutely spot on. We need to look at it from this fundamental level and also to recognise that this is an issue concerning men just as much as women.
  • Paul | 28 Mar 2014, 11:42 a.m. Agree 0
    This argument is tedious in the extreme . We are all intellingent adults. why do we need others telling us what we should be doing. if you want to earn $1m per annum go to a big firm and devote your whole life to it. If you don't then don't ! Any person male or female who wants to devote their whole life to the law can go and do that if they have the ability. i am male and i have no desire or probably ability to devote my life to earning $1m per annum as a lawyer. i don't whinge and tell everyone how unfair it all is. please will people stop lecturing me about how unfair it all is - of course having kids is a barrier to that but then the mums staying at home to have kids get huge benefits from that that those working 80 hours a week at the big firms don't get. why all the gnashing of teeth about it !
  • Don | 28 Mar 2014, 02:02 p.m. Agree 0
    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong (H L Mencken).
    The problem with your solution Paul is that young lawyers of ability and ambition are in practical terms offered only one route to success. And it comes at a personal cost that is needlessly high. The profession should be able to do better.
  • AGM | 28 Mar 2014, 02:04 p.m. Agree 0
    As a junior solcitor with only a few years of experience, I can already tell I need not bother even thinking about striving to be a partner, unless I set up my own practice and become a principal.
    I work in a "family friendly" office (and trust me by most standards they are extremely flexible and accommodating) but I am a few months into my first pregancy and I am already being passed over for work and training oportunities.
    I decided I will only take 6 months leave so I do not miss out too much on work, but the fact is I am already stagnating and will continue to do so until my kids are grown. It was a concious choice I made, but it is sad that as a 20 something year old I had to argue with my husband as to the benefits of having children so "young".
    That said, my husband is also taking some time off to spend with our child, again, no more than 6 months, and he is weary of what impact that would have on his career... and he is well established and regarded in his field (which is not law).
    Reality - whether you are male or female, and regardless of your profession, kids kill your career if you choose to make them your first priority.
  • Free market works | 29 Mar 2018, 03:42 p.m. Agree 0
    A London based partner of global (UK based) law firm told me: we actually recruit more female lawyers from Uni than males, and make a huge effort to retain them, but they choose to drop out to pursue other things (building a family etc).
    My personal experience has borne this out - the eager young female 'corporate' lawyers start out all keen and ambitious, and soon have a couple of kids and the lure of the corporate career/daily grind/ rat race seems less attractive.
    Many of my female colleagues chose to have more kids and raise a family, enjoy mothers morning meetings at coffee shops etc, than to pursue budgets and collecting money on invoices etc. Why judge them or the firms they left?
    Why don't we acknowledge the role of CHOICE in the gender statistics?
    Factor in the impact of multiple maternity leaves, and the indispensable role of mothers in nurturing their young offspring, and you see why in economic terms males have a 'comparative advantage' of being present in the office continuously available for clients and to support Partners / Management (aren't we so lucky...)
    Pay equity is an illusion - no two human beings are equal and polarising the sexes in this manner is divisive not constructive.
    Think of it this way - would Capitalists CHOOSE to pay men more if they could get the same value from women by paying them less?
    Does the free market work or not? If women need diversity quotas and protectionism, what does this say about their value, compared to men ?
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