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Women lawyers are taking over, but is it as it seems?

It’s official. For the first time ever there are more women practising as solicitors than men. Over the years I’ve observed a rise in women entering the profession (last year the figure sat at just over 60%), so it was only a matter of time before this resulted in a takeover!

The stats

But let’s look at this in more detail. Whilst there are more women than men holding practising certificates, the average age of a female solicitor in England and Wales is 40, whereas the average age of a male solicitor is 45. This suggests that even when we take the higher number of women at the junior end into consideration (59% of non-partner solicitors are women), there are still more women than men dropping out of their legal career, or not progressing to partner.

This is borne out by the partner numbers, where still, women make up a mere 33% (29% in larger firms).

Obviously, there’s more to life than making partner, and maybe women are less fixated on career progression at the cost of everything else in their lives, but it’s hard not to think there are some unrealistic barriers along the way.

I come across a lot of lawyers who are only 15 years qualified but genuinely believe making partner involves dropping everything: potentially moving to another office in another city, and throwing away your entire life hours for at least a few years. This isn’t practical for most families where both parents need to work.

Career prospects for part-time lawyers

To equalise the above, it’d be great to see an increase in part-time male lawyers. I know a few who reduced their hours to four days a week once they had kids.

In two-career families – and let’s face it, with house prices the way they are these days, is pretty much everyone – both sides of the parenting partnership should be free to juggle career and parental responsibilities without damaging progression opportunities. If there were as many dads working part-time as mums, this might happen.

It should be possible (and considered perfectly normal) to make partnership as a part-time worker. Again, it does happen, but it’s rare. It might take longer, but no-one would be complaining about that.

Let’s try and work towards a profession where no one person has to put their career on hold because two people have decided to become parents. The profession is getting better, with more flexible working options and more family-friendly policies, but we've got a long way to go before the career progression barriers for part-time workers are resolved.

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