Q&A with I. Stephanie Boyce

I. Stephanie Boyce is the deputy vice president of the Law Society.

I Stephanie BoyceAt the start of your career, what made you choose law?

I recently attended the screening of a legal drama which dramatizes a real-life injustice. An injustice perpetuated more so by the lack of legal representation.

Growing up, I saw similar injustices unfolding around the world: people not being able to exercise their legal rights.

I chose to study law because I wanted to broaden my own awareness, knowledge and understanding of rights and legal issues, together with the confidence and skills needed to deal with disputes and enable access to justice as a qualified solicitor and to make a difference.

Biggest career challenge so far?

The biggest challenge in my career was securing a training contract. After numerous applications and interviews I finally obtained a training contract. However, that is not the case for everyone.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) provides an opportunity to widen access to the profession and replaces the requirement of a training contract with qualifying work experience (QWE). There is, however, a lack of information and clarity as to how the QWE will work in practice.

The Law Society is working alongside the SRA and other stakeholders to ensure the profession is kept up to date with developments as well as representing the views of the profession.

Biggest career success?

Qualifying as a solicitor against the odds and becoming deputy vice president of the Law Society of England and Wales, which is a remarkable achievement.

The opportunity to serve my profession and colleagues as an office holder bringing all my skills and experience to bear in promoting the profession and raising the profile of the Law Society, is an extraordinary privilege.

I do not and will not underestimate the significance of my election to this role. I will work to continue to raise awareness of the solicitor profession and the extraordinary work we do.

I intend to be visible and collaborative, seeking to renew old acquaintances and forge new alliances. I am hugely grateful to my colleagues for making this all possible.

Women in leadership in law has been a key focus for the Law Society. What changes did this initiative bring about?

At our international symposium on women in the law in June 2019, the Law Society launched our Women in Law Pledge with CILEx and the Bar Council and with support from the then-justice secretary David Gauke to encourage greater diversity in the profession.

Law firms, local law societies, barristers' chambers and organisations outside the legal sector both in the UK and internationally are being invited to sign their name to the pledge.

Organisations who sign the pledge commit to support the progression of women into senior roles in the profession by focusing on retention and promotion opportunities, setting out clear plans and targets around gender equality and diversity for their organisation, and publishing their action plan and publicly reporting on their progress towards achieving their goals.

We will continue to work on gender equality in the law to create a more equal profession.

Only 20% of equity partners in top 10 firms are female, and even fewer come from BAME backgrounds. What do you intend to do about this during your time in office?

100 years on from the passing of the Sex Removal (Disqualification) Act, women are still not reaching senior positions in equal numbers to men – 50.2% of practising solicitors are women, yet women only make up 30.1% of partners in private practice.

Under the stewardship of our immediate past president Christina Blacklaws, we undertook the largest ever global survey (February 2018) on women in the law.

Some of the key figures from our survey:

  • unconscious bias in the legal profession was the most commonly identified barrier to career progression for women (cited by 52% or respondents), while flexible working was seen as a remedy by an overwhelming 91% of respondents to our survey
  • 74% of men and 48% of women reported progress on gender equality in the last five years
  • the main barriers to career progression were perceived as: unconscious bias (52%), unacceptable work/life balance demanded to reach senior levels (49%), traditional networks/routes to promotion are male orientated (46%), current resistance to flexible working practices (41%)
  • 91% of respondents said flexible working is critical to improving diversity but 52% work in an organisation where flexible working is in place
  • 60% are aware of gender pay gap in their place of work but only 16% see visible steps being taken to address the gender pay gap

During my time in office, I will continue with this work.

There is, however, the need to extend this work to other areas and address the general issues that exist such as inclusivity for potentially disadvantaged or minority groups – including BAME, the disabled, those from the LGBT+ community and from a low socio-economical background.

Is there a place in City law firms for quotas, in relation to both women, BAME, disability and social mobility?

Whether that be supporting lawyers and prospective lawyers from diverse backgrounds, championing best practice, or amplifying the views and experiences of role models, our goal is the same and that is to widen access to the profession and remove barriers, artificial or real to career progression.

The Law Society does not favour quotas mainly because they imply favouring a particular group of people based solely on a protected characteristic, which would amount to positive discrimination.

However, we do promote the use of target setting that can move a firm/organisation towards a more equitable position in terms of representation and positive action where a firm/organisation can objectively justify the use of particular interventions, such as training, mentoring, tie-break in recruitment, etc to be used as a means of diversifying the workforce or addressing disparities identified by that firm/organisation.

What advice would you give to a City firm who would like to set a BAME target, but doesn't know how to go about it?

Targets are an effective way of creating goals and actively working towards achieving your objectives. Where firms have set BAME targets, they have seen tangible increases.

The Law Society research department can provide data on diversity groups in the profession as well as the SRA, which also has a useful online diversity data toolkit on its website which may assist.

Also, talk to others who have already done so and utilise the resources available.

Highlight some great work you've seen by others in increasing the representation of women and BAME solicitors as equity partners.

There is lots of work being done in the space. We are an extraordinary profession doing great work in our organisations and in our own communities to increase representation of women and BAME solicitors as partners.

There is, however, much more that can be done and there are a number of initiatives and toolkits to support this including the Women in Law Pledge.

We are all agreed that the more diverse our profession is, the more we will all benefit and in turn create a rewarding and vibrant profession that promotes social and educational inclusion and equality of opportunity for everyone.

If you had your time over again, what would you do differently in terms of managing your own career?

I wouldn’t do anything differently. To do something differently implies that something I did was/is wrong.

For me, I am very clear that every twist, every obstacle has got me to where I am today and contributed to the person I am and seeking to become.

What practical difference do you think the Law Society can make to individual members’ careers?

As the professional body for solicitors, the Law Society is here to support you at every stage of your career.

The Law Society issues guidance, resources and targeted services to help you in your career. For instance, the careers companion is a package of useful tools and resources that support career development of members.

We also have a number of community divisions which provide access to role models and networking opportunities.

In addition, the Law Society offers career support:

  • we offer you career support through a host of events and e-learning through Law Society Learning
  • our career development service helps you make better career decisions. Our new career clinic service offers a free consultation with a career coach or legal recruiter
  • our demographic or practice-based communities can help you expand your network and improve your knowledge in specific areas
  • our Gazette jobs board helps you shape your career with expert guidance and new vacancies in print and online

What piece of advice would you give to a female newly qualified solicitor?

The Law Society is committed to promoting inclusion in the legal profession, reflecting the diversity of our society.

The Women Lawyers Division supports and advises all women solicitors and aspiring women solicitors, from trainees to retirees.

We also have a number of other divisions including the Junior Lawyers Division, LGBT+, Lawyers with Disabilities Division, Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division and communities that can provide support, networking opportunities, and be a valuable resource when needed.

My advice is to join and become involved in the work we do, take advantage of networking opportunities locally and nationally, and have your voice heard as we begin our march towards the next 100 years of women in the law.

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