M’Lud, M’Lady. Now they’re equal
Numerical parity has been reached in the legal profession, says a new report from the Law Society. Practicing solicitors in England and Wales are now represented by marginally more females than males. However, the stats don’t convince everyone that equality of the sexes is anywhere near to being achieved just yet.
LawBid founder Kid Harwood said that the turnaround has been quite remarkable. “Even as late as the turn of the century, women in leading positions in the legal profession were very much the exception. To find representation in almost any area of law, you would invariably be presented with a man, rather than a woman on the other side of the lawyer’s desk.”
Now however, the tables have turned, and the numbers coming through legal training suggests that the balance is likely to swing significantly in favour of women for the first time in centuries. In what’s been called the largest international survey of women in law, conducted by the Law Society, it’s been found that women solicitors practicing in England and Wales outnumber men for the first time in history, and that people working in law across the world are speaking out about the challenges the profession faces in achieving gender equality.
That doesn’t mean that equality has been achieved in many of the key metrics however. Pay for example still lags behind, and the national associations are not necessarily leading by example. The Law Society of Scotland, for example, admitted that its own mean pay-gap was 17% in favour of men, despite the fact that almost three-quarters of its employees were women.
South of the Border, the Law Society report highlighted some of the challenges still faced by the profession. The sex equality of fiction is yet to be reflected in real life and away from the cameras and the novels, in real life, you are more likely to meet a Perry Mason than an Ally McBeal. “The truth of the matter is that, while there may be a balance of women and men coming through the ranks, noted Kid Harwood. “There are still far less women in the top echelons of the profession. So while the Law Society survey may show equal figures, it doesn’t show equal responsibility and seniority.”
That’s an issue that’s prevalent around the world. In Australia, where there is a government office of sex discrimination commissioner - and it’s a post held by a female lawyer - gender bias is still rife in the legal profession despite the rhetoric. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Commissioner Kate Jenkins said she had noticed slightly older women disappearing from the offices where she cut her professional teeth, and that, even though that was 25 years ago, and the rhetoric and policies had changed, the culture of many firms remained the same.
“I’m not sure if that’s the case in the UK in the twenty-first century,” says Kid Harwood. “There is still a long way to go in that respect, but among the members of the LawBid family, there are many firms that have women in key positions, and as often as not, younger firms are led by female principals. Modern platforms, like LawBid, are completely neutral. When it comes to offering legal services, it works on an entirely transparent basis, and clients choose on merit alone. For the sake of equality, and for the provision to the public of the best service possible, that's got to be a step forward that will also benefit equality in all its aspects.”