You are here:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. Blog
  4. We must do more to prevent women being 'lost to the law'

We must do more to prevent women being 'lost to the law'

24 July 2019

Linden Thomas, President of Birmingham Law Society, discusses three new initiatives to address gender inequality at the most senior levels of the law.

 

In 2019, 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force and enabled women to practise law, the legal world is a promising place for women: we have a female President of the Supreme Court, we have until very recently had a female president of the Law Society of England and Wales, and more than half of pupil barristers and those admitted as solicitors in the last year were women.

Yet women in leadership positions in the law remain in the minority: nationwide, women account for only 29.3% of partners in private practice. There are plenty of women entering our profession, but they are not progressing in tandem with their male counterparts. Not even close.

'Lost to the law'

One of the reasons for fewer women at partnership level or equivalent, is that a number leave legal practice somewhere around the mid-point of their careers, before realising their full professional potential – they are 'lost to the law'. When this happens, our sector lose considerable knowledge and experience and we also lose valuable role models and potential sources of support for younger women.

I have experienced first-hand the value of female mentors and role models: I have been fortunate to have known a number of women in senior positions to whom I have looked for advice, support and inspiration as I have progressed in my own career.

But this is not the case for all women entering careers in law today. With the majority of boards and senior management teams still male-dominated, workplace policies, practices and cultures can inadvertently favour men, often making it difficult for women to sustain their careers beyond a certain point.

However hard we try to promote equality at the point of entry, we cannot achieve a representative gender balance at all levels of the legal profession without first addressing the unusually high rate of attrition of its female members.

At Birmingham Law Society, we believe that a multi-faceted approach is required. To this end, and to mark the centenary of women first being allowed to practise law, we are launching three new initiatives: to support women in the early stages of their legal careers, to celebrate those who inspire and challenge others, and to formally explore the factors contributing to senior-level gender inequality.

Women supporting women

In line with recommendations made in the 2018 'Women in Leadership in Law' report published by the Law Society, which calls for more ideas that involve 'women supporting women', we are introducing a new peer-to-peer, inter-organisational mentoring scheme for our members. There are some conversations that can be difficult to have with even the most supportive colleagues from within one's own organisation, and with such a large and diverse membership Birmingham Law Society is uniquely placed to provide access to impartial mentors from a broad range of practices.

Mentors and mentees are currently being recruited for the scheme, which is due to launch in the autumn. To assess impact, at the end of the year participants will be asked to reflect on their experience – whether they feel the scheme helped them (and in what ways), and whether they would recommend it to others.

The Law Society report also highlights the importance of role modelling to demonstrate support of other women. It is this idea that forms the basis for our new social media campaign, #ThankYou100. Featuring videos of our female members expressing thanks to their role models, this campaign, which is running across Twitter and LinkedIn, is designed to recognise and celebrate those who have made a difference to women at all stages of their legal careers.

Research informing policy

Alongside this work to promote visibility and increase support for women practising law, we are also collaborating with academics from the University of Birmingham Law School on a new research project called 'Lost to the Law'. The project explores the factors that cause women to leave legal careers, what they go on to do and what, if anything, might have led to them choosing to stay. It will be running throughout 2019 and is due to publish its findings in the new year.

The knowledge garnered as a result of this kind of rigorous and independent academic research has the potential to be a tool for real change, enabling employers to make informed decisions about the policies and practices they can implement to support and enable women to remain in the profession.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be leading a progressive organisation such as Birmingham Law Society, which, fittingly in this milestone anniversary year, is for the first time in its 200-year history being led by an all-female team of office holders. It is my hope that together, the initiatives that we have put in place will go some way towards reducing the rate of attrition of female legal professionals in the West Midlands and beyond, and in doing so will help to make the next 100 years even more fair and progressive than the last.

If you, or any women you know, have left the legal profession and would like to know more about participating in the Lost to the Law research project, please contact the researchers at the University of Birmingham at ceplerresearch@contacts.bham.ac.uk

 

Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

Has your firm signed up to our Women in Law pledge, in partnership with the Bar, and Cilex? It's easy, find out how 

Issues around sexual harassment in the workplace are covered in our Women in Leadership in Law report

Read the International Bar Association report: Us Too? Bullying and Harassment in the Legal Profession

Support for solicitors

Our Pastoral care helpline for solicitors experiencing personal, financial, professional, or employment difficulties is open 9 to 5 Monday to Friday on 020 7320 5795 

Our Practice Advice Service offers free and confidential support and advice on legal practice and procedure open 9 to 5 Monday to Friday on 020 7320 5675

Our Lawyerline gives advice on client care and complaints handling, including how to resolve complaints directly with clients and how to engage effectively with the Legal Ombudsman on 020 7320 5720 and lawyerline@lawsociety.org.uk

LawCare supports good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community

Tags: diversity and inclusion

About the author

Linden Thomas is president of the Birmingham Law Society and manager of the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER) at the University of Birmingham Law School.

Follow Birmingham Law Society on Twitter

  • Share this page:
Authors

Adam Johnson | Adele Edwin-Lamerton | Ahmed Aydeed | Alex Barr | Alex Heshmaty | Alexa Lemzy | Alexandra Cardenas | Amanda Adeola | Amanda Carpenter | Amanda Jardine Viner | Amy Bell | Amy Heading | an anonymous sole practitioner | Andrew Kidd | Andy Harris | Anna Drozd | Annaliese Fiehn | Anne Morris | Anne Waldron | anonymous female solicitor | Asif Afridi and Roseanne Russell | Bansi Desai | Barbara Whitehorne | Barry Wilkinson | Becky Baker | Ben Hollom | Bhavisha Mistry | Bob Nightingale | Bridget Garrood | Caroline Marlow | Caroline Roddis | Caroline Sorbier | Carolyn Pepper | Catherine Dixon | Chris Claxton-Shirley | Christina Blacklaws | Ciaran Fenton | CV Library | Daniel Matchett | Daphne Perry | David Gilroy | David Yeoward | Douglas McPherson | Duncan Wood | Elijah Granet | Emily Miller | Emily Powell | Emma Maule | Floyd Porter | Gary Richards | Gary Rycroft | Graham Murphy | Gustavo Bussmann | Hayley Stewart | Hilda-Georgina Kwafo-Akoto | Ignasi Guardans | James Castro Edwards | Jane Cassell | Jayne Willetts | Jeremy Miles | Jerry Garvey | Jessie Barwick | Joe Egan | Jonathan Andrews | Jonathan Fisher | Jonathan Smithers | Jonathon Bray | Julian Hall | Julie Ashdown | Julie Nicholds | Justin Rourke | Karen Jackson | Kate Adam | Katherine Cousins | Kaweh Beheshtizadeh | Kayleigh Leonie | Keiley Ann Broadhead | Kerrie Fuller | Kevin Hood | Kevin Poulter | Larry Cattle | Laura Bee | Laura Devine | Laura Uberoi | Leah Glover and Julie Ashdown | Leanne Yendell | LHS Solicitors | Linden Thomas | Lucy Parker | Maria Shahid | Marjorie Creek | Mark Carver | Mark Leiser | Markus Coleman | Martin Barnes | Mary Doyle | Matt Oliver | Matthew Still | Max Rossiter | Melissa Hardee | Neil Ford | Nick Denys | Nick O'Neill | Nick Podd | Nikki Alderson | Oz Alashe | Patrick Wolfe | Paul Rogerson | Pearl Moses | Penny Owston | Peter Wright | Philippa Southwell | Preetha Gopalan | Prof Sylvie Delacroix | Rachel Brushfield | Rafie Faruq | Ranjit Uppal | Ravi Naik | Remy Mohamed | Richard Collier | Richard Coulthard | Richard Heinrich | Richard Messingham | Richard Miller | Richard Roberts | Rob Cope | Robert Bourns | Robin Charrot | Rosa Coleman | Rosy Rourke | Saida Bello | Sally Azarmi | Sally Woolston | Sam De Silva | Sara Chandler | Sarah Austin | Sarah Crowe | Sarah Henchoz | Sarah Smith | Shereen Semnani | Shirin Marker | Simon Day | Sofia Olhede | Sonia Aman | Sophia Adams Bhatti | Sophie O'Neill-Hanson | Steve Deutsch | Steve Thompson | Stuart Poole-Robb | Sue James | Susan Kench | Suzanne Gallagher | The Law Society Digital and Brand team | Tom Chapman | Tom Ellen | Tony Roe Solicitors | Tracey Calvert | Umar Kankiya | Vanessa Friend | Vicki Butler | Vidisha Joshi | William Li | William McSweeney