The week in which International Women’s Day falls seems a good time to air my thoughts on Women in the Legal Profession, something which has been very much an issue for me since becoming Managing Partner of Morecrofts in 2014.
When I was elected Managing Partner, it didn’t immediately strike me that my gender was an issue. After all, I took over from a female Managing Partner, whom I had worked with on the Board of Management for many years. When I joined Morecrofts as a solicitor in 1999 there were more male than female partners in the firm – although only just!
It was only when I attended the inaugural Liverpool Law Society Managing Partners’ Dinner, following on from having recently done a presentation about women in the law, that I really sat back and realised that I was actually quite a rarity! There was only one other female managing partner in that room back in 2015. That has increased, but we are still markedly in the minority.
Recently I was asked to do a presentation for the Institute of Directors on equality and diversity issues and I – not unexpectedly – chose to speak on gender issues. That caused me to delve a bit deeper and flush out the actual statistics about the make up of our firm.
When I joined Morecrofts back in 1999 the partnership was made up of 13 partners (very similar to what we have now) – but in those days there were 6 women and 7 men. Times have changed – our partnership today is made up of 14 partners, 9 of whom are women, and indeed 48 out of 58 of our solicitors and other lawyers are women.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not on a mission to eradicate men! Nor am I an advocate of female-biased quotas. I fervently believe that it is important to get the best person for the job, no matter their gender (or indeed their race, religion, sexuality, or age). I think it is important that every business has a strong balance of views, approaches and opinions. It might sound stereotypical (and there is a reason why stereotypes have arisen, after all!), but men and women do think differently on many things, and often the frank exchange of views which that can lead to is needed to enable a business to be forward thinking, to grow and progress.
Last month we celebrated the centenary of the first women given the right to vote. In 2019 the project “100 years of Women in the Law” will mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which paved the way for women to enter the professions for the first time.The Act paved the way for Carrie Morrison to become the first woman admitted as a solicitor in 1922. Morrison was a pioneer, and known for supporting those less fortunate than herself. Those first brave steps she took have led us to a position where there are in fact now more women solicitors entering the profession in England & Wales, than there are men.That might sound like an excellent and positive statistic. However there is still a lot more progress to be made. There might be more women entering the profession, but there is still a significant lack of women filling management and senior roles. I look around the Liverpool legal profession and that is improving, but we are still massively in the minority on this. It is not a local issue, either. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has just published its most recent diversity statistics, from data collected in August 2017. The information was gathered from an analysis of 180,000 people working at 9,000 law firms, and did find progress in several key indicators used to measure the range of individuals in the sector.
Women now make up 48% of all solicitors, a figure that has remained steady since 2015, and account for 33% of partners across all firms (up from 31% in 2015). However, there is a marked difference between firms of different sizes. In the largest firms, those with at least 50 partners, 29% of partners are female – up from 25% two years previously. In mid-sized firms, 37% of partners are female, up from 31% in 2014. The SRA describe their findings on gender as “small but welcome signs of progress”. Which they are, but there is a lot further to go!
At Morecrofts, we don’t go out specifically to attract female talent to our team! It just so happens, that 9 of our 14 partners are women, and 48 out of 58 of our solicitors and other lawyers are women. I am very proud of that fact. I find it incredibly rewarding to work in, and lead, a firm that has given so much opportunity to talented women, and has done what it can to help them overcome any obstacles that might have been put in their path, which could have prevented their progress. In the 99 years since women have been able to practice the Law, I like to think that we have done our bit and played our part in the development and advancement of women lawyers, and will continue to do so, for many more years to come.