The rise of women in law
In honour of International Women’s Day, on the blog, we look at the rise of women in law and how the industry is changing to meet the modern lawyer’s needs, male or female.
And no article being written today about the workplace could not touch on the impact of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic on how we all work and have embraced flexible and remote working.
Statistics released in June 2019 revealed that for the first time, the number of working solicitors in England and Wales had 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, Yorkshire Regional Director at Stowe Family Law, 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 have changed
As the UK entered its first lockdown in March 2020, it is estimated that just under 50% of the country’s workforce shifted wholesale to working from home. (ONS data).
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced changed and dramatically accelerated shifts that were already underway in terms of increased working from home and flexible hours.
What happens once the pandemic is over will vary from business to business. At Stowe, we believe our future solutions will need to prioritise flexibility and choice in terms of how both colleagues and clients interact with us and access services.
While this may be easier said than done, it is where our focus lies as we move forward in 2021. With over 75% of our team wanting to combine home and office-based working post-Covid-19, a hybrid model offering flexibility and choice for our colleagues is at the heart of how we will operate as a firm.
“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 three days a week and attend school events (when we are not home-schooling)”, says Rachel.
Currently, over 50% of the leadership team and Managing Partners at Stowe work flexibly.
But it is not just about the firm’s leaders,
“I am a great believer in trusting your team to manage their diaries, workloads and working from home to allow them to meet their family commitments”, Rachel adds.
At Stowe, over 30% of the workforce has a flexible working pattern, with countless more enjoying informal arrangements agreed with their line manager.
“For me, it is about putting boundaries in place, so I will sometimes work at home in the evening, but for the large part, my weekends are a precious time for us to spend as my family, 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 reflected in the fact that 66% of all partners at Stowe and 70% of lawyers are female.
“Family law tends to attract more women, and it’s essential 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. I think, sadly, that too often the right things are said, but the requirements on a day to day basis make it impossible for women to advance in their careers and balance having a family.”
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.”
Perhaps a positive outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic will be a continued uptake of flexible working, tailored for both women and men so they can enjoy a positive work-life balance.
Rachel is the Yorkshire Regional Director at Stowe Family Law. 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.
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*Law Society Annual Statistics Report
**Solicitors Regulation Authority