Is the future of law female?
Statistically, the future of law is definitely female.
A quick look at Law Society figures from north and south of the border reveals that the majority of people entering the legal profession are women. Sixty-nine percent of Law Society of Scotland members under the age of 25 are women, while in England and Wales 62.7% of the new trainees registered in the year to July 2010 were female.
The future, you would think, is set.
It has long been recognised that while an increasing number of women are entering the profession, a large percentage of them leave within five to ten years. The recent International Women in Law survey, commissioned by the Law Society and LexisNexis, confirmed that for all but the youngest women, the percentage of admitted women who actually hold practising certificates is consistently lower than that for men.
In all experience bands, according to the survey, higher proportions of men achieve partnership status than women.
The reasons for this are equally well known. A report by Insight Oxford Ltd for the Law Society on the ‘Obstacles and Barriers to the short and long term career development of female lawyers’ highlighted five main issues discouraging women in the legal profession:
- The lack of flexible working practices;
- The organisational culture of firms;
- The structure of the firm, in the sense of management style and career development;
- The way in which professional achievement is measured – in particular billable hours; and
- The approach women take in tackling the problem.
For me, as a non-lawyer and business woman, the striking thing about the issue is the waste. What a waste of time, talent and opportunity.
If you think about it in business terms, anything that encourages a good employee – man or woman – to leave is bad for the bottom line. Managing talent in a poor way results in lost productivity and profitability, largely through:
- The cost of recruitment and the settling of new staff – it is thought that it takes at least six months for new employees to settle into a company.
- Loss of knowledge and skill – knowledge of the firm and the way it operates, on top of the loss of specific legal knowledge.
- Loss of network and client base – as the departing lawyer closes off a pipeline of work. This has a knock on effect on partners, who sometimes become wary of cross-selling client work. This then has an impact on their ability to be strategic, and is a real waste of potential and capacity for growth.
- Inability to innovate and be creative – caused by a lack of consistency in the team.
- Inability to stay close to developments in online thinking – such as social networking, which is very much part of the younger talents’ world.
- The impact on the firm – the departure of ‘top talent’ often has an effect on the value and perception of the company (although this is not always bad). Talent leaving also makes everyone else unsettled and restless, impacting on morale and creating a sense of not being valued.
In general, organisations that are known for poor talent management are not positioned well for profit. They cannot be agile and will find it hard to position themselves for recovery. Sadly, the legal profession doesn’t have that option if it wants to compete against the many players moving into the market place.
I think change is therefore inevitable.
The UK Law Societies have already recognised the problems created by the current system, and are trying to come up with solutions, but I believe that legal firms, faced with the perfect storm of economic downturn, Alternative Business Structures and advances in technology, will have to adapt quickly if they wish to survive.
Working practices, culture, structure and approach are among the likely areas of innovation – and opportunity. The end result will be a more flexible, client-centred and female-friendly profession, benefiting all lawyers, men and women alike.
What about you? Do you think that a more balanced legal profession is inevitable?