In honour of International Women’s Day, on the blog we look at the role of women in law and how the industry is changing to meet the needs of the modern lawyer, male or female.
Statistics released in June last year revealed that for the first time, the number of working solicitors in England and Wales has exceeded that of men – now 50.1% up from 43.4% in 2007. *
So, is the age of the male-dominated law industry over?
When Rachel Roberts, Managing Partner of the Stowe Family Law office in Leeds graduated she began her career with a strong, female mentor so believed that “anything seemed possible”. In fact, Rachel did not even consider her gender to “have an impact until I had children.”
Having children and finding balance is a struggle many women in law face and is reflected in the statistics when we look at seniority in the industry with women making up just 33% of partners in the UK (up from 31% in 2014). **
Times are changing
But there are signs of change. A number of firms have signed up to The Law Society’s diversity and inclusion charter and the profession is becoming more flexible and fairer.
It’s a change that Stowe agrees with as we are committed to moving away from a traditional model to a model of flexibility and empowerment to help reduce pressure and strain.
“I am lucky to work for a firm that prioritises the well-being of its staff and I work flexible hours so that I can still do the school run 3 days a week and attend school events,” says Rachel. Currently, over 50% of the leadership team and Managing Partners work flexibly.
But it is not just about Managing Partners, “I am a great believer in trusting your team to manage their own diaries, workloads and work from home to allow them to meet their family commitments” she adds.
“For me, it is about putting boundaries in place, so I will work sometimes at home in the evening, but my weekends are precious, and my work phone is switched off or out of sight.”
In 2017, Lady Justice Heather Hallett spoke of her hopes that there was no glass ceiling and that the law had changed considerably for the better for women. A sentiment that is reflected in the fact that 66% of all partners at Stowe and 70% of lawyers are female.
“Family law tends to attract more women, in fact, the team in Leeds is all-female and it’s really important that we find ways to work around family commitments so that we retain our talent,” continues Rachel.
“I have not encountered any obstacles to progressing up the career ladder because I am a woman, but I work at Stowe and we have a large number of women in senior roles. I am not sure how much flexibility there is in larger law firms.”
Her advice to women considering entering law now is simple “There is no limit to what you can achieve. The culture is changing, although in big firms it has a long way to go. So, get involved with organisations that care about retaining women in practice, and focus on well-being.”
“However, the whole sector now needs to change – men equally need to be able to have a healthy work-life balance and spend quality time with their friends and family.”
Rachel is Managing Partner of the Stowe Family Law Leeds office. She is also an ambassador for Women in the Law, a non-profit women’s networking organisation designed to encourage, inspire and support the next generation of lawyers and women in business.