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April 17, 2012 Practice Points

“Women in the Law” Survey

By Candace Duff

LexisNexis and the Law Society, an organization that represents, protects, and promotes solicitors in England and Wales, recently commissioned a survey entitled “Women in the Law.” The survey notes that while women in recent years have accounted for more than half of the new entrants into the legal profession, far more women than men leave the practice of law well in advance of normal retirement age. It aims to establish how far women have come in the legal profession, to ascertain the barriers to women’s career development in law firms, and to determine what can be done to address those barriers.

Of the 1,100 worldwide respondents to the survey, 85 percent were from an “Anglo-connected” country and 90 percent were female.

According to the survey results, 64 percent of respondents acknowledged that gender diversity is an important commercial issue for their law firms. Just over 30 percent of respondents, however, believe that quotas are necessary to achieve diversity.

When asked what is the primary reason that more women do not attain senior-level positions, the respondents identified the time and effort required to reach senior-level status as the biggest impediment. Many respondents also cited unconscious gender bias within the legal profession and that traditional networks/routes to promotion are male-orientated.

When asked to name the biggest change law firms could make to encourage more women to reach senior levels in law firms, the most common response was to adopt more flexible working practices. The second most common response was for law firms to change the way they assess performance (i.e. changing the performance metrics to allow for fewer hours in the office).

Based on the responses, the study’s authors concluded that the biggest changes required, according to survey respondents, are cultural.

Keywords: women, law firm, career development

Candace Duff works at Greenberg Traurig, P.A. in Miami, Florida.

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