'Workin' 9 to 3am'
Thousands of women working in private practice revealed what sparks joy and what enrages them at their firms in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022 survey.
Women in law firms are just about as satisfied as men, the survey revealed, with 3,892 women handing their firm an average score of 67%, compared to a 69% score from the male respondents. (Those who didn't record their sex - over 1,000 people - were by far the most unhappy, handing their firm an average score of 52%.)
Excluding partners, who were largely ecstatic, the average score for solicitors dropped to 61% for women and 63% for men. The average female solicitor is marginally less satisfied than her male counterpart with everything except her work/life balance.
Numerous women expressed their delight with the growing number of female leaders emerging in traditionally male-dominated boardrooms. "I was so proud of the firm for appointing a female senior partner, and it was great to see other firms follow suit and make similar appointments", said a business services employee at Freshfields. The "female-led management team" brought "a breath of fresh air" to the London office, agreed a senior solicitor at the firm.
"It is great to see a woman moving into the senior management team as our COO", echoed a business services employee at Macfarlanes, while at Trowers and Hamlins, where Sara Bailey has become the firm's second consecutive female senior partner, it was also "extremely inspirational to see so many women in leadership roles", said a female employee.
However, women were alive to the possibility that firms desperate to appear progressive might promote a candidate as inappropriate as any stale male dinosaur. "Whilst it was pleasant to see a woman elected to a leadership role", said a female lawyer at one firm, the partner in question "is about the most unsuited person for this task and will be an appalling advocate of equal treatment of women, considering she is known to discourage families and pregnancies".
Citing similar reservations, women at several firms bemoaned the female role models they were being offered. "The kind of women who make it to the top pull up the ladder behind them - they aren't prepared to support a work-life balance", said a senior solicitor at Howard Kennedy. The lack of "well-balanced, well-adjusted and happy role models (particularly female, particularly women with families)" was even raised by a lawyer at the RollOnFriday Best Law Firm to Work At 2022, Burges Salmon.
Count yourself lucky, admonished women at firms with a persistently bepenised outlook. "I wish there were more representation, it would be nice to have a female in a leading role", said a senior solicitor at Shoosmiths (although the firm currently has a female interim COO).
Long, inflexible hours were rued by lawyers of both sexes, but it was a particularly career-stunting obstacle for women and mothers, said female lawyers. "Seen a number of women depart after being looked over for promotion", said a solicitor at Reed Smith. "Whilst never (publicly) the primary reason, there is still a lack of compatibility between demanding City law hours (plus BD/client entertaining etc.) and a family life", she said.
"All women seem to agree that having children and a career at W&C are mutually exclusive unless you have significant additional resources (ie round the clock childcare or a partner that doesn't work/works very regular hours)", said a lawyer at White & Case. "This is improving ", said a colleague, but "there aren't really structures in place to encourage females to remain" in a culture which aimed to retain "just those that can endure long hours and lots of pressure".
Expressions of understanding from the top often clashed with the reality on the ground, said mothers. "The messages at management level do not filter down to reality in individual teams", said a Freshfields solicitor. Partners in individual teams "need to engage more with how to make flexible working and part time arrangements work for people with children, if management are serious about retaining women", she said. "Women with kids working 4 or 4.5 day weeks typically just have to do 5 days work in a more compressed time".
Women at several firms expressed frustration that management continued to scratch their heads over why so few women were moving up the ranks. Allen & Overy was "constantly wondering why there are not more women in senior roles, but making the work environment impossible to succeed in for women in families (who actually like their families)", said a solicitor at the Magic Circle firm.
At Charles Russell Speechlys, "Instead of analysing why the top jobs might not be accessible or appealing for women, they send women on training courses (called things like 'Evolve') to allow them to become more like men", said a CRS lawyer. "'But the women just don't want to apply for the senior roles,' they cry, without doing anything at all to establish why that might be", she added.
Meanwhile, many women at Travers Smith are apparently in agreement on one thing. A particular male associate "always smells divine - I think it’s well known who he is", said a female lawyer. "Every time I'm in the lift with him it makes me grateful that I work here", she added: "I know this is a widely held opinion amongst the female population at the firm".