Junior lawyers

Old priorities, new goals

Move over Battle of the Sexes, the Battle of the Generations has begun in earnest, writes Beth Forrester.

Liz Truss, Lady Hale, and Dame Fiona Woolf, all firsts. We live in an age where more women are qualifying as solicitors and more glass ceilings than ever before are being broken. In the month of International Women’s Day, this can only be a good thing, right?

Well, while there are also more women joining the legal profession, they are also quitting at an equally high rate. Not such good news. While the Solicitors Regulation Authority tells us that one-quarter of partners in ‘large’ UK law firms are now women, that number shrinks significantly in some areas of work. This has left the great and the good wondering what to do and how to retain women in the profession. Is this a ‘women problem’ or is there a more general rebalancing going on?

Those women in law, and across the workforce, now in their early 30s are the first cohort of millennials. As we are often told, millennials see things differently. With the psychological glass ceiling now broken, should the legal profession – instead of focusing on the old male versus female priorities – instead concentrate on the greater generation versus generation divide?

This would tie in with recent research by PwC which noted that only 4 per cent of millennial women cited family as a primary reason to leave a firm or profession and for those who did cite it, it was more commonly the fifth or sixth consideration. This is supported by research from Deloitte, which concludes that millennials are more interested in people than money and unwilling to work seemingly ‘pointless’ long hours in order to climb the corporate ladder.

The good news for the profession is that this doesn’t mean we don’t want to be lawyers; we just want being a lawyer to fit around life. That may mean choosing smaller or specialist firms, it may mean flexible working or it might mean joining the gig economy. This is more compatible with family life, if that’s a concern, or a secondary project or passion.

Finally the profession is starting to wake up. The public sector has always been known for part-time working but it is now looking at remote working too, aided by technology and forced by office space reductions. And the private sector is at it as well, from the entirely flexible virtual firms, championed by Scott Moncrieff & Associates (SCOMO) and others, to new schemes within the City such as Rockhopper at Lewis Silkin. Change is afoot.

So back to International Women’s Day. While sweeping changes are taking place across the profession, these appear to be demanded equally by millennial men and women. While there are many fronts on which to fight for gender equality, the gender divide in law (certainly for our generation) seems to be eroding, certainly at a junior level, and the demands and ambitions of the genders are aligning. This can only be a good thing and the increasing gender equality in the profession gives us something to celebrate this year.

Beth Forrester is a Law Society Council member for junior lawyers
@ juniorlawyers

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 14 March 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission.

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