Law Firm Diversity: Views from Female Insiders

by Vault Law Editors | March 25, 2011

  • My Vault

It’s no secret that female lawyers aren’t trampling the glass ceiling just yet. Women lag behind men when it comes to the partnership ranks. Women attorneys have certainly made some cracks in that ceiling, though, and many law firms are focusing on gender diversity (in fact, on many law firm websites, you’ll find sections dedicated to the firms' commitments to diversity).

So just how committed are law firms to actually executing their diversity goals? In honor of Women’s History Month, I thought it would be interesting to see some views of diversity from the inside. Below is a sampling of responses to the diversity questions on Vault’s recently-closed UK Solicitor Survey (results will be released later this year). The commenters are female insiders at law firms within the UK.

•“There has been a distinct absence of any overriding firm policy on diversity and the approach seems to be to deal with diversity issues in an ad hoc way, which is sometimes successful and sometimes less so . . . . In relation to women, the position has developed somewhat through necessity, but the fact remains that the firm is a male dominated corporate transactional firm and struggles to reconcile this with the demands outside work that women (and men) have to take on. The responsibility for finding ways to address these issues rests largely with individuals and the partners for whom they work and whilst this can work out well in some cases, in that the solutions are tailored to individuals rather than being generic, it avoids certain fundamental issues such as whether women working part-time should be considered for partnership and whether working fixed hours in the office but then dealing with work at home in the evenings should be remunerated in the same way as normal full-time work (on the basis that individuals doing this are essentially billing the same number of hours as those who stay in the office). This is likely to be of considerable concern to both female and male lawyers entering the profession over the next few years and could prove to be a real competitive disadvantage in recruitment and retention if not properly addressed.”

• “I think the firm does make an effort to encourage diversity. It is particularly apparent in relation to women, family friendly policies are good and there are quite a few female partners.”

•“Over half of associates are women and only 10% of partners are women. This is something that concerns many female associates at the firm but the firm [does] not appear to feel that this needs addressing particularly urgently or creatively. This is a shame as it leads to a huge loss of talent and possibly leads to female associates feeling that their potential is undervalued.”

•“There are too few women at the senior associate/ partner level, but this is changing and they seem to be making extra efforts to do more.”

•“The firm recognizes the importance of women. We have a Woman's Forum where the female associates and partners can discuss issues [they] are facing and have regular guest speakers who are noted women in their fields. Not only are a substantial proportion of associates and trainees women, but the London office partnership has a sizable minority of women.”

• “Diversity issues (particularly in my case being a working mum) seem to have decreased in priority due to the increased competition generally for employment as a solicitor in the current market. By working three days a week, it has been made quite clear to me that there is no chance of my promotion. If I worked the same hours over more days, however, I am told this would change. I have, however, found the firm to be mostly flexible in relation to the occasional childcare issues that arise from time to time, but I do have the benefit of remote access to make up time in the evenings from home.”

•“Our diversity policy is very important to the firm. It is promoted internally a great deal - there is a clear incentive to ensure we are employing people from a wide range of backgrounds. It would be wrong to suggest that you can work part time, 9-5 and still get equal promotion/career opportunities to someone working all the hours. At some point reality says you have to choose a little. Having said that, our senior partner is female, works flexibly to manage her family, but that still doesn't mean 9-5 by any stretch of the imagination.”

•“In my case there seemed to be absolutely no expectation that I would return to work and a complete lack of preparation when I did - having said all along that I would return and having always given the same date. The maternity package actively encourages a return to work - it is not however matched in practice by the partners' attitudes.”

•"I do think the firm tries, but a refusal to embrace flexible working practices means that a lot of female partners and associates have left recently."

See the 2010 UK Solicitor Survey

Read More:
Should Companies Demand Diversity from their Outside Counsel?
Female Lawyers Only Argue 15 Percent of SCOTUS Cases but That's Better than Nothing
Celebrating International Women's Day with Male Lawyers

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Filed Under: Law

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