Women in Law

Former Obelisk Support interns Maxie Chopard and Keshara Hallock take us through the portrayals of women lawyers on TV and how characters have grown and developed over time. They discuss the power of representation in popular culture in shaping societal expectations and gender stereotypes.

One of the earliest portrayals of a woman lawyer on American television was Mary Bancroft (played by Elsie Ferguson) in Scarlet Pages in the 1930s. The all-talking crime drama features Bancroft as a successful female lawyer in New York who acts as defense attorney for Nora Mason, a nightclub singer accused of murder. The twist in the plot comes when Bancroft subsequently discovers that Mason is the biological daughter she had given up for adoption.

Interest in female characters in the legal profession seems to have increased in the last decade. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in The Good Wife, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) in How to Get Away with Murder and Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) in Suits, are just a few household names whose on-screen lives we have become fully vested in.

Has the Portrayal of Women Lawyers on TV Changed?

One might be tempted to argue that the depiction of women lawyers on television has not evolved as quickly as one would like. Scarlet Pages capitalised on the novelty of a woman occupying a powerful position in a typically male-dominated industry. That Bancroft was a lawyer in Scarlet Pages was a fact that was referenced. She was never shown as doing anything particularly “lawyerly.”

The Ally McBeal Effect: Drama over Substance?

More than half a century later, Ally McBeal was all about the drama that ensues when the character portrayed by Calista Flockhart finds herself caught in a love triangle after joining a firm where her ex-boyfriend and his current wife also work. Once again, the focus is not on the woman lawyer acting in a professional capacity but the unfolding of her personal story.

Indeed, the juicy details of the leading women in law often seem to dominate the plot. Former lawyer and White House aide Pope’s affair with United States President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) is a central pillar of Scandal. Defence Attorney and Law Professor Annalise Keating’s affairs, multiple relationships and closet full of secrets have fuelled four seasons of How to Get Away with Murder.

Equality requires Complexity

At the same time, it is fair to say that women in law are increasingly being portrayed as more complex and nuanced characters. In How to Get Away with Murder, the mercurial, highly intelligent and unscrupulous Keating is fearsome, yet there are times when she appears vulnerable. Similarly, Pope’s groundbreaking role in Scandal has been described by The New York Times as, “possibly the most complex black female lead in television history.”

The marked shift from characters such as the perpetually self-questioning McBeal to the emotionally strong, professionally powerful, and personally complicated women in law on television we see today has been accompanied by a greater emphasis on women as competent professionals.

It is no longer uncommon to see a strong, confident woman litigator who beats men on her own terms. The no-nonsense, straight-talking Pearson in Suits comes to mind, as does How to Get Away with Murder’s Keating, who is often seen browbeating witnesses, opposing counsel and indeed anyone who stands in her path into submission. Founder and managing editor of Above the Law David Lated coined the term “the litigatrix” to represent such women who tend to more demanding than their male counterparts, to the extent of being pushy and domineering.

Empowering… or Emaciating?

The prevalence of women lawyers on television can be seen as empowering, particularly as they are often shown to be breaking the glass ceiling. Pearson, for instance, is the first African-American woman to work as a judicial clerk at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and later becomes partner of her firm after leading a successful coup against the name partners.

As a powerful socialiser, the media makes its marks on both self-image and societal expectations. Professor Ric Sheffield who teaches Law and Society Kenyon College observed that starting from the 1980s, his 19-22 year old students seemed to have an acute understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer even though they had not been to law school. The students did not know famous U.S. female judges such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor but knew Pope from Scandal. It was clear that his students had gleaned this knowledge from pop culture.

Portrayals of women lawyers on television could inspire and encourage girls to join the profession. However, not everyone is of the view that these characters are positive role models. Others argue that these female characters are detrimental, as they entrench gender stereotypes and normalise the disparity between men and women in the legal profession.

Shaping Fiction to Shape Reality

Are the women in law in the media a source of empowerment or disenfranchisement? What do you think? The jury is still out for us on this one overall…

That said, it is important to acknowledge just how far portrayals have come, and one particularly good example is Jessica Pearson of Suits, the Managing Partner of Pearson Specter Litt. Gina Torres, who plays Pearson reveals that for her, the character’s strength comes from the fact that “her drive and her ambition has nothing to do with her gender or cultural background”. Torres is right; Pearson’s role is equatable with her position at the firm. Her leadership, intellect and the respect she garners from her colleagues are all in keeping with the person at the helm of the firm irrespective of their race, gender or anything else. The portrayal is thus at one level reassuring, demonstrating a woman judged on skill, who has thrived in a meritocracy.

“Jessica was conceived as a man” – Gina Torres

Some might say Pearson’s presentation is not progressive in portraying women in positions of power. She is tough, straight-talking and physically domineering, towering over other characters, men included. Does she in fact reinforce the stereotype that it still in really is a man’s world and the only way a woman can be successful is to assimilate?We would disagree with this. Pearson is not void of femininity – yes, she casts a powerful figure and is business-like but this is hardly surprising; she is managing a corporation. Furthermore, Pearson is undeniably elegant. Her deportment and costume choices are symbols of grace as much as of self-assurance.

Work-Life What?

Aspects of her presentation, however, do make us question the industry’s accommodation of women or anyone who aspires to anything beyond their life at a powerhouse firm. Pearson’s life is the firm and this is not because she has to try that much harder to prove herself. It is the same for the male characters working at a senior level too. The show reinforces the idea that work-life balance is seemingly unattainable when at the top of the industry. Somewhat disturbingly however, we are not often made to feel as though anything is lacking.

It is hard not to notice that the workplace becomes the forum for all other activity. Characters constantly refer to each other as their ‘family’ and the most successful relationships are between co-workers, which seems to be a curious attempt to compensate for the fact that maintaining a life outside the firm is near impossible for them to achieve.

Non-Linear Depictions

The Good Wife is in this respect of greater significance for women in its depiction of the more modern struggle to merge career success and life or family. Alicia Florrick is as inspiring a lawyer as Jessica Pearson; she is quick, sharp and respected for being very good at what she does. However, and the clue really is in the name, she is a wife and a mother and the domestic space features as heavily in the show as the workplace. There are no illusions and the roles are quite realistically in conflict at times but in terms of female empowerment, this is still a positive step. It is more important for it to be shown that there are career-minded mothers than to depict only mothers or career women because we are uncomfortable with not having found a fool-proof equilibrium between the two yet.

Moving with The Times

The fact that the programme is not afraid to illustrate changing ambitions and priorities is also beneficial; Florrick is a Georgetown Law attendee, who leaves the profession to raise a family but a decade later wants back in. This may be because she has a monetary need but quite quickly she comes to value professional stimulation as much as she does being a mother. It is positive that this shift is shown without judgment and furthermore that after an adjustment period, it is proven that she is more than capable of performing at this level in spite of time away.

The Future is Yours. No, Really…

Finally, the way that Florrick’s relationship with the firm fluctuates, charting her desire to start her own firm and eventual return to the firm on new terms is powerful in expressing more modern values and mentality towards career progression. Her journey illustrates the increased importance of a feeling of autonomy even when working within a corporation and compares nicely to her senior, Diane Lockhart, who spent her life devoted to the firm she is now in charge of. Showcasing a woman who is unapologetic in shaping her career path proactively according to what she wants and not within the constraints of where she is granted to go by another is refreshing. The audience does not always approve of her decisions nor are they always fruitful but nevertheless her fearlessness is surely a powerful lesson for the next generation of women.

TV writers are clearly increasingly realising and exploiting the potential of female lawyer characters. Solidifying the image of success women lawyers on TV is an important step towards reinforcing this as a working norm for future lawyers of both genders. If television can help spark conversations of how the profession makes this work for women in reality as they advance in their careers, surely this is a bonus.

Next on the agenda ought to be getting British writers on board. Whilst we do seem to have a penchant for the female detective, female lawyers are decidedly few compared to U.S. TV series, but perhaps that discussion is for another article!

 

The Legal Update

Legal blogs, or blawgs as they are sometimes known, are changing the way that law is discussed and debated in the industry. Legal blogs can be a valuable outlet and asset for lawyers and companies alike: acting as a marketing tool for your expertise, and allowing some creative headspace to examine issues of personal intrigue outside of your own work.

Whether you are thinking of starting your own legal blog and need some inspiration, or simply want to follow for extra insights and opinion, here are some of our picks of the world’s most highly rated and recommended English-language legal blogs.

This list comprises on blogs covering all areas of law and the largest English-language markets around the globe. If you’re particularly interested in legal technology, watch this space. We’ll be doing a round-up of the best legal tech sites very soon!

UK Legal Blogs

UK Criminal law blog 

Authors: Dan Bunting, Sara Williams, and Lyndon Harris

Founded by three lawyers after a conversation on Twitter, the UK Criminal Law Blog  aims to tackle the lack of public understanding and misreporting in media about the criminal justice system and sentencing.

Family Lore

Author: John Bolch

Family Lore was founded by John Bolch back in 2006. Three years later Bolch left practice to take on writing full time, publishing a book and running a second website. The blog posts a mix of news digests, musings on topical issues and legal updates, with occasional humour and irreverence.

Barrister Blogger

Author: Matthew Scott

This award winning legal blog is direct and simple in approach. Scott is not afraid to share his decisive opinions on legal issues dominating the news sphere, and has a way of setting the scene of well-read (and some not-so-well read) legal stories that keep you engaged from post to post.

The UKCLA Blog

Authors: Various

The United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association publish this highly credible resource of expert comment and analysis on matters of constitutional law in the UK and further afield, with articles cited in academic writing, official publications and in the news media.

Jack of Kent 

Author: David Allen Green

Green offers his liberal and critical perspective on law and policy in the UK. Since mid-2016, the blog has had an almost exclusive focus on Brexit, though Jack of Kent came to broader public attention back in 2013 with its coverage of the #TwitterJokeTrial and its implications on governing free speech and publishing.

European Law Blog 

Authors: Various

A legal blog that does exactly what it says on the tin – this is a concisely written resource for updates and commentary on EU case law and legislation. It also has a Brexit countdown clock on the homepage, in case anyone needs reminding.

Kluwer Competition Law Blog 

Authors: Various

Produced by Kluwer Law International, this blog updates with information and news on international competition and antitrust law, written by practising lawyers, academics and economists, covering Europe and also the US. They actively encourage interaction and invite guest contributions.

Techno Llama 

Author: Andres Guadamuz

Cyberlaw is one of the fastest moving areas of law, and there’s plenty of interesting analysis and thought pieces over at TechnoLlama, with emphasis on open licensing, digital rights, software protection and virtual worlds. Articles are often whimsical, with a serious message.

USA Legal Blogs

Lawyerist

Authors: Various

What began as a one man legal blog turned into a full-blown media company, home to the largest online community of solo and small-firm lawyers in the world. Articles, survival guides and podcasts share ideas, innovations and best practices, with a particular focus on technology.

Ward Blawg

Authors: Various

Founded by Gavin Ward, the blog has expanded to include legal guides and resources for UK audiences. There are sections on areas of law including commercial, property and criminal law, offering a mix of advice, analysis and news updates.

Associate’s Mind

Author: Keith Lee

Lee began his blog back when he was in law school, and it has grown to be one of the most popular legal blogs in the US. He focuses his content on helping lawyers new to the profession transition from amateur to professional and to navigate the on-going changes in the industry.

Gen Y Lawyer 

Author: Nicole Abboud

This series of podcasts interviews a new generation of professionals who are doing something a little differently in the profession. Abboud talks to millennials both inside and outside of the legal profession who are going after what they want on their own terms.

The Law for Lawyers Today

Authors: Karen Rubin, Tom Feher, Frank DeSantis, guests

Published by Thompson Hine LLP, TLLT is a resource for lawyers, departments and firms focusing on legal ethics, the ‘law of lawyering’, risk management and legal malpractice, running a legal business and other related topics.

Law 21

Author: Jordan Furlong

With the tagline ‘dispatches from a legal profession on the brink’, Furlong analyses the trends and changes that are occurring or that are indeed overdue in the legal industry – from women in law, to technology and market pricing.

Australia Legal Blogs

Barnold Law

Author: Bruce Baer Arnold

If you’re looking for detailed updates on a range of topics such as Australian health law, data, technology, theoretical discussion and, at the author’s own admission does of irreverence, irony, indignation and honestly-held opinion, this is the place to start.

LGBT Law Blog 

Author: Stephen Page

Page is a leading divorce and surrogacy lawyer committed to championing the rights of and interests of LGBTI people in Australia. His posts tackle discrimination parenting, property settlement, same sex domestic violence, and same sex law issues. This will be one to follow as Australia goes to postal vote on same sex marriage laws.

TressCox Lawyers Blog 

Comprehensive and expert thoughts and opinions from the TressCox Lawyers team, this is a great example of how a law firm can use blogging effectively. The blog focuses on corporate, employment, insurance and litigation law.

India Legal Blogs

Legally India

Authors: Various

Legally India provides a platform to bloggers of all legal and writing experience to express themselves and communicate with the wider legal community in India. The blog is regularly updated with breaking news, analysis and original content about the Indian legal market.

Livelaw

Authors: Various

Livelaw is a comprehensive legal news portal, which in their own words is set to redefine the standards of legal journalism in India. The website also reports on foreign and international law and provides a range of resources for practicing and studying lawyers.

iPleaders

Authors: Various

iPleaders aims to help make the law more accessible, by researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, workshops, and interactive software for legal entrepreneurs. They publish on a range of blog platforms on subjects such as sports law, outsourcing, marketing and advertising, and business law.

Law and Other Things

Authors: Various

Law and Other Things publishes informative court and case updates, news articles, interviews, book reviews, petitions and announcements relating to India’s laws and legal system, courts, and constitution.

 

Finally, we couldn’t go without including Obelisk’s own thinking space! The Attic offers a weekly mixture of thought pieces on working culture in the legal industry, profiles of consultant and event speakers, and guidance on career development for lawyers and legal consultants looking to work differently.

What legal blogs do you follow? How do they help you in your work? Send us your recommendations at laure [at] theattic [dot] london and we’ll update our list…

Making Work, Work

The Attic recently caught up with Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel at Nestlé UK & Ireland, to discuss legal team management and flexible working. With 15 members working with the company’s United Kingdom and Ireland divisions, Maurice-Jones’ legal team focuses on internal business partnerships to proactively shape and challenge the company’s business agenda. For Maurice-Jones, flexible working is a common sense work arrangement for modern lawyers – here, he tells us why.

Defining Flexible Work

Starting with the basics, we wanted to know how flexible working was defined at Nestlé UK & Ireland. As it is such a recruitment buzzword, it’s important to know what the phrase encompasses.

“At Nestlé,” said Mark Maurice-Jones, “we have a policy that discusses the various elements of flexible work, whether it’s a number of working hours, a reduction of working hours, a reduction of number of days or working from outside the office. All these are part of the flexible working policy, a policy that’s updated regularly (the current policy dates from 2014) and that applies to all employees in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”

Why Flexible Working?

When you factor in that any of the team do not live close to the location of Nestlé UK & Ireland close to Gatwick Airport, work flexibility becomes a powerful employment tool as well as a driver for a better work-life balance. Indeed, the goal of the flexible working policy at Nestle was to address diversity and inclusion, and also to make sure that people enjoyed a good work-life balance.

In the legal department, several people take advantage of it, particularly when it comes to working in different locations. For two members of the legal team (male and female), working a 4-day week helps them achieve a better work-life balance. Commute is also a big incentive to take up remote working: Issues with public transport? Working from home solves the problem. In this particular instance, work flexibility helps reduce levels of stress.

Last but not least, the type of work they do in the legal depart lends itself to flexible working options. Law is about talking to people; it’s a lot of email correspondence and meetings. “You don’t necessarily have to be located in any one place to do these things,” says Maurice-Jones.

Successes and Challenges of the Flexible Working Lawyer

For Maurice-Jones, flexible working makes a positive difference for everybody. “With the train problems from London to Brighton over the last year,” says Maurice-Jones, “The policy has helped my team on the days that there were strikes.” He adds that working from home has also helped in other instances. “Our office has an open plan environment and it can get a bit noisy. If people need to focus and write something, it is more efficient for them to work from home.”

The feedback on flexible working is very positive and people are appreciative of its impact on their work-life balance.

However, flexible working can only work as long as Maurice-Jones and other lawyers on the legal team continue to have cohesivity within the team and with people working remotely. “I come into the office most of the time,” says Maurice-Jones. “If you come on a Tuesday and you don’t connect with your colleagues until Thursday and you’re working on a joint project, then this can be problematic.”

How to Ensure Seamless Communication within the Team

To keep abreast of everybody’s work, it’s important to get everybody around a table in person on a regular basis. Monthly team meetings plus shorter weekly meetings bridge the gap on smaller topics with team members at the office. Some topics tend not be discussed remotely, but rather when the whole team is together during meetings. Indeed, each of the lawyers tends to be working with their business unit and team meetings are a great venue to update the rest of the team, on projects that are vertical or transversal.

Beyond team meetings, the right communication tools are essential to communication channels flowing both ways. Between telephones, email and Skype, keeping in touch on everyday tasks is not difficult. You can find a lot of information from your iPhone without having to be there and you don’t need to visit the library for legal texts either. While we take this access to information for granted nowadays, it was impossible 10 years ago and shows how much the world of in-house legal professionals has evolved.

A Trust-Based Team Organisation

To naysayers who argue that flexible working doesn’t mean equal pay, Maurice-Jones counters that his team lawyers are judged on their work output and not input. He says, “provided that everyone has very clear objectives to achieve, it doesn’t matter where or when the objectives are completed. People should only be judged on their output.”

To young general counsels or team leaders, Maurice-Jones recommends to try flexible working. “Go for it,” he says, “people find it motivating. It allows for work-life balance and it generates trust. It’s a very good thing to do. If you want to attract the best people, you need to offer flexible work options, otherwise you’ll be ruling out a lot of people and miss out on talent.”

On legal team topics, Bjarne Philip Tellman’s Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel provides great insights for in-house legal professionals.

Handling Deadlines Within a Flexible Legal Team

Nestlé’s legal team members are expected to hit their deadlines wherever they are based. They are not dictated by how often people are in the office, but by the demands of the business. The deadline doesn’t change just because so-and-so is working from home.

When the press reports that Nestlé leads the way in terms of work flexibility, our interview with Maurice-Jones confirms that this is certainly true in the United Kingdom and Ireland even for one of the most traditional of corporate areas, the sacrosanct legal department. Who says that lawyers resist change?

Mark Maurice-Jones joined Nestlé as General Counsel and Head of Legal Services of Nestlé UK and Ireland in May 2015. Prior to joining Nestle Mark worked for 15 years at the US FMCG multinational Kimberly-Clark where he held a number of leadership positions in the EMEA Legal Department. He originally trained and practised as a competition lawyer with international law firms in London and Brussels.

In his current role, Mark heads up the Legal Department supporting all of Nestlé’s businesses in
the UK and Ireland which have a turnover of £ 2.4 billion and employ 8000 people across 20 sites. He
is passionate about developing legal teams that pro-actively shape and challenge the wider business
agenda and drive a culture of compliance and integrity.

Women in Law

We recently looked at some positive trends in the legal industry concerning the rise of women in law, but talent retention and other factors can hamper this progress. How do we embolden the next generation of women in law and continue to forge a working culture that works for all?

Progress Status of Women in Law

The rise in women lawyers is largely thanks to the hard work of the men and women in the profession who have campaigned, advocated and led by example to create a more open, diverse culture in the legal industry. There is of course, work to be done.

Women are still disproportionately finding their careers and ambitions stalling as they take a career break or seek a better work life balance. Shockingly, we are seeing higher numbers of women enter the legal profession than men, yet there are still significantly fewer women than men in senior positions.

To inspire younger generations, we must give them the tools to carve out successful careers without gender discrimination getting in the way. Here are some simple starting points for us to keep in mind…

#1 Fight the Gender Gap

Fewer than 1 in 3 senior- and middle-management positions were held by women in the majority of 67 countries with data from 2009 through 2015. You’d think that rich countries would know better but when the BBC published their pay rates for their biggest stars in the United Kingdom, the public outcry on the gender pay gap was immediate. Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans topped the list on more than £2 million, while the highest paid woman was Claudia Winkleman, on between £450,000-£499,999, earning a mere 25% of the best paid male star.

Now that U.K. companies with more than 250 employees are mandated by law to publish details of the pay gap between their male and female employees, big law firms are going to have to be proactive about their gender pay gap. If the gender pay gap for partners at big U.S. law firms is an astounding 44%, if the UK gender pay gap is 18.1% for all workers and 9.4% for full-time staff, what will it be in the City?

More important, what is your company doing to advance equality?

Top Tips

The United Nations Global Compact published a Gender Gap Analysis Tool to help companies assess current policies and programmes, highlight areas for improvement, and identify opportunities to set future corporate goals and targets. Results are provided in a concise and clear format so companies can easily identify areas for improvement.

The Fairy GodBoss shares the three following successful strategies to cut the gender pay gap:

  • Stop the salary history reveal
  • Ask for transparency
  • Design a path to action

Last but not least, learn how to negotiate your salary, from the job offer to the annual promotion.

#2 Measure & Celebrate Progress

Inspiration from those who have come before us, and those who are around us should not be underestimated. To remind ourselves of what has been achieved and the progress that has been made reminds us all that we can truly make a difference and be part of the change we want to see in the industry – the First 100 Years is a particular example of this, plus you can also read about the progress of women in the law in Scotland in our recent article.

Likewise, awards and events to recognise all who are striving for change and have achieved success in the industry are important to maintain the momentum and provide incentives. It is also important to invest in, support and share studies, research and individual stories that tell us what needs to change and what areas still need to be tackled, to provide purpose to those coming through the ranks.

Top Tips

Celebrating progress of women in law starts by measuring how far your company has come in terms of gender equality, following up with sharing your company’s progress. It can be as simple as sharing news in a company newsletter to show how the firm values and monitors diversity in law.

To provide pointers as to what to measure, Bloomberg LP, the financial information and media company launched the Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index (BFGEI) which provides “investors and organisations with ‘standardised’ aggregate data across company gender statistics; employee policies; gender-conscious product offerings; and external community support and engagement.” The index is not ranked and participants join by filling out a voluntary survey that is free of charge.

To go further, actively seek out and sign up to programmes and initiatives that provide awards and incentives for diversity measures.

#3 Provide Meaningful Mentorships and Sponsorship

Practical support from peers and senior colleagues is vital to fuel ambition in new generation of women lawyers. This includes support both before and after career breaks. As we have seen from a recent BCG study, company culture is the key factor in maintaining their ambition. A company that provides a formal mentorship scheme, and always seeks to develop the career of their employees as far as possible no matter what their circumstance can only benefit from more determined, driven and engaged workers. If you are in a senior or partner position, it may be time to look at options for mentorship in your firm.

Latham & WatkinsBank of AmericaTarget and Freshfields focused their initiatives on mentoring female employees to give them access to sponsorship and leadership positions that qualified women have been long denied due to conscious as well unconscious biases in the workplace. Target’s CEO Brian Cornell has, in fact, partnered with PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to form a Future Fund to achieve 50/50 gender parity in the retail industry at all seniority levels.

Top Tips

Mentoring requires input from the whole organisation, not just the mentor/mentee. When implementing or updating an existing mentorship programme, start by conducting a survey  – find out what incoming lawyers want to get out of mentoring, and who is willing to be a mentor and what they would like to bring the role.

Set out a structure for each mentor to create a formal training plan with their mentee, with specific goals and objectives. Creating a coaching team who is able to assess progress and continue to provide mutual support throughout career progression.

#4 Create and Advocate for Women Returnships in Law

A particular barrier to women fulfilling their ambitions in law is the impact of career breaks. This is finally starting to be addressed within the industry with the introduction of training programmes for women returning to work after a career break, also known as returnships. These have been largely successful across other industries, with most acquiring a position at the end of the returnship. However, law firms have been slower to launch such programmes, and there have been some concerns about the amount of people who have managed to secure a flexible position at the end of the programme (something we intend to look at in more detail in a future piece!).

Top Tips

To help encourage the provision of returnships, a few big law firms also offer returnerships, such as Allen & Overy’s Return to Law (after career breaks) or ReStart (for people over 50) in the U.K., Herbert Smith Freehill’s OnRamp Fellowship (in the U.K. and Australia), Davis Polk and Wardwell’s Revisited (in the U.S.) or Proskauer Rose LLP’s CaRE (in the U.S.).

Along the same lines, several organizations, such as OnRamp Fellowship (U.S.), Path Forward (U.S.), Working Mums (U.K.) or Women Returners, provide information on available returnships and return to work support events, while working with employers and businesses to consult on the design and delivery of returnships.

#5 Hold a United Front Against Discrimination

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or minimise behaviour that is discriminatory, unethical or disrespectful. Our collective response as lawyers, and as women should be of no tolerance, including when (or perhaps in fact, particularly when) the behaviour doesn’t directly affect us. A comment made in passing by a client, a pattern of recruitment decisions that don’t seem quite right – it can be easier to explain away or just accept it as ‘one of those things’ in a profession still dogged by gender bias.

Top Tips

It’s important to keep talking and support one another in these instances. For example, if you are on the receiving end of the comment, ask what was meant by it. If someone was on the receiving end, ask if they were OK and if they want to take any further action. Talk about diversity within your organisation, research what measures are in place and discuss other methods to create a more inclusive environment and tackle discrimination. At firm level, ensure that any incidents of discrimination or sexist language are formally recorded and disciplined where appropriate.

Ultimately, there is strong evidence of competitive and cultural benefits of gender diversity in the workplace (see for example the Credit Suisse report on gender diversity and corporate performance). This should mean that everyone should be openly and willingly offering support and provisions to help future generations of women in law achieve their potential. We all play a role, no matter how small it might seem, in shaping the future for women lawyers.

What would you do to empower women in law?

Making Work, Work

The legal profession is less than a trailblazer in terms of flexible working practices. It is of course not the only guilty party. Other industries that have been criticised or determined poor for flexibility include aerospace (in a survey on women’s perception of openness to flexibility) and perhaps more surprisingly, the arts sector.

Is law filled with more obstinate traditionalists with no desire to change and adapt? In our experience, this is highly doubtful. However, the complete picture is somewhat more complex. There are a number of persisting practices preventing the legal industry adapting successfully to flexible working.

#1 Telling, Not Showing

When firms only pay lip service to flexible working, instead of incorporating it as the norm of the working culture, people will be reluctant to take it up. There is a reluctance to take up flexible working when offered as a specific policy, to be seen as an exception or seeking special treatment – a stigma still exists. Bridging the gap between policy and practice means implementing official flexible working guidelines as well as making the company culture more flexible overall.

  • Easy Fix: Are your top management or top workers taking up flexible working? Once they do, others will follow.

There is also the Catch-22 scenario of lack of role models and untapped talent means no example for workers coming through. This unfortunately means that more firms are likely to sit on the fence when it comes to offering flexible working options, believing that the demand is not their or that the practice simply doesn’t work in the legal profession.

This does not mean the demand is not there, in fact majority of workers have been found across industry to prioritise flexible working when considering the desirability of a company or position. In addition, the practice of flexible and remote work within law has proven to not only work well, but provide more efficiency and productivity for clients and consultants alike.

  • Easy Fix: Offer a set number of days per quarter for flexible working, at the lawyer’s discretion.

Global health care company Roche has a unique flexible work program that offers employees 12 days of remote work per quarter (48 days/year). If an employee needs to stay home to be with kids or sick parents or to focus on a specific project, the company trusts that they will still get their work done.

#2 Relying on Outdated Technologies

The legal industry has been slow to embrace new tech-led agile infrastructure, but flexible and remote working practices need the right tools to be successful – cloud-based technology, online collaboration tools and online security protocols. If your law firm is still living in the golden age of hard-drive doc storage, physical team meetings or fixed working hours, it’s time to open up.

Technology plays a vital role and it is often simply the case that some industries have not focused on investment in technology capabilities to allow the easy, secure provision of flexible working practices. It’s not just an issue for lawyers however: clients in more technology-advanced industries will naturally be looking for more innovation and flexibility from law firms and anyone providing legal services to them. Law’s lack of investment in new technology is at its root an institutional problem – from the traditions of the courtroom to the dominance of firms and billable hours – so it’s not going to change overnight, progress will need to be driven.

Easy Fix:

#3 Being Afraid to Lose Control

Which leads us to this next point. Investing in technology and flexible work in the legal industry may mean a complete change in the way that legal services are provided. Larger, traditional law firms will have to adapt immensely in order to meet flexibility demands from lawyers and clients.

While other industries that have been more exposed to non-traditional ways of working see the trend as an opportunity to be more agile and adaptable, the legal industry sees only a loss of control – of data, of lawyers who are spending less time in the office, and of their client relationships as they become more focused on the individual legal professional rather than the reputation of the firm.

There is also the fear of making the job ‘easier’ somehow devaluing the expertise required in the profession, instead of giving legal talent more time to concentrate on important aspects of the role such as court appearances and counsel. Georgetown Law’s Centre for the Study of the Legal Profession offers some insights into the need for the industry to let go of the old models and adapt to a changing market.

  • Easy Fix: Empower lawyers by entrusting them with projects and deadlines at their own pace.

#4 Rewarding Long Desk Hours

It’s often said we live in a world that rewards extroversion; people more visible generally deemed more contribution, while those who work away quietly and aren’t drawing attention to themselves are sometimes overlooked. Linked to this, long desk hours in the office is rewarded in a similar way, particularly in law, where the more time we are seen to be at our desks, the more dedicated and hard-working we are presumed to be. However, studies have clearly shown that overwork leads to more mistakes and reduced productivity.

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss has previously spoken out against presenteeism, identifying it as the key reason for a lack of gender equality in the profession. A TUC study in 2013 found that legal professionals are the most likely workers to do unpaid overtime. More generally, presenteeism is a damaging aspect of working culture across the board – badly managed workloads, health issues resulting from reluctance to take sick days, mistakes arising from fatigue and overwork, the list goes on.

  • Easy Fix: Reward productive lawyers and encourage them to get a life.

#5 Sticking to Full-Time Positions

Most big law firms stick to the traditional model of full-time on-site lawyer careers, regardless of your personal circumstances. While that may have the norm a decade ago, the rules of the game are changing. People want a better work-life balance or simply put, they want a life. Offering only traditional legal jobs cuts from the talent pool all the expert lawyers who are also entrepreneurs, who care for a family or who cannot commute to the office every day.

To prevent brain-drain and the loss of a highly skilled workforce that demands flexible working, here are two ideas that are easy to implement.

  • Easy  Fix: Encourage job sharing part-remote working.

A job-share team is formed by two professionals who form a partnership to perform one job. An example workweek might involve Teammate A working Monday to Wednesday and Teammate B working Wednesday to Friday at the same position, with some hand-off and complementary responsibilities on the overlap day.

A part-remote working system can mean 4 days at the office, 1 day working from home.

Within the legal profession, there has long needed to be more understanding about individual work patterns and productivity conditions and allowing people to adapt to a work flow/pattern that suits their individual profile and lifestyle outside of work. Change is however more critical than ever, as the industry must adapt to the innovations and changing attitudes to working culture in order to stay competitive. Flexible working is just one part of an impending institutional overhaul.