Sex and partnership - female lawyers that would like to be partners and are feeling discouraged

This article is aimed at female lawyers that would like to be partners and who, swamped by well-meaning commentary, are feeling discouraged. In many cases the commentary has been as misogynistic as it claims the profession to be. Commentators have implied that women do not have the business development skills or staying power of their male colleagues and that the election to have children naturally means that a woman gives up on partnership. Alternatively, the argument runs that women are not as naturally competitive and sharp elbowed as men and so are not recognised for their contribution to the firm and advanced internally.

Perhaps most offensive of all is the assumption that it is the Legal Profession which is the main determining factor of the course of a female lawyer’s career; that conscious and unconscious bias and assumptions around child rearing are more powerful than the choices and objectives of the individual concerned. As with most generalities there is a germ of truth in each of these propositions, but surely not enough to account for the massive disparity between male and female partner numbers. Can the profession really be suppressing and dismissing 50% of its talent pool?

The reality is that that you do get to choose how your career progresses and where it ends up. Some choices are tougher than others and impact on other aspects of one’s life.

Having a notional structure in mind about which to build and manage your career can be helpful at all levels of advancement. There is no one set of questions that fit everyone but in this context the big ones are: -

  1. When do you want to retire?
  2. What sort of house do you want and where should it be?
  3. Do you want to get married? If so when?
  4. If you want children – when and how many?
  5. What do you need to earn at each stage of life?
  6. Do you want to be a Partner?

Making such plans early in one’s career may seem absurd – there are too many variables and life never works out as you think it will. The key is to have a plan containing clear strategies and objectives for your career that meet your personal and professional aims and that also fits within the needs and expectations of the profession. While your perception of the profession may change at times and your goals may shift; having a plan that you have devised will make you less susceptible to following or fitting in with your firm’s or the professions’ plans for you. 

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