Global Elite Thought Leader Colette Wilkins discusses the developing role of and challenges facing women in the legal profession.
It is very pleasing to see increasing numbers of very talented young women joining the profession, and this bodes well for greater representation of women at senior levels going forward.
I’m not sure I can agree with the premise of this question, since I don’t think there are significant barriers to female leadership in the legal profession now. Our own firm, Walkers, has a female global managing partner and a number of female leaders across the firm. Most firms are acutely aware of the need for gender balance at every level, and it is a good time for aspiring female leaders to discuss with their firms what they can do to help their progression. Sometimes we put up our own barriers by failing to put ourselves forward for senior roles.
Representation of women at partner level has improved significantly in recent years and hopefully will continue to do so. Any law firm failing to promote its most able lawyers, regardless of gender, will fail to meet its potential since the talent of our lawyers is the bedrock of our business. I do not think there is any intention to overlook female talent but sometimes as women we could do more to put ourselves forward for senior roles and ensure that it is known that we are keen to be promoted.
Our clients rightly expect the highest levels of service given the potential significance of what we do for them (and its cost). This places heavy demands on lawyers. As a result, in order to succeed in most areas of law we often need to single-mindedly focus on work, and put our shoulders to the wheel. Technology is both a boon and a curse in this regard: it allows us to work away from the office, but it also allows us to work around the clock. Managing the demands of work and balancing this with family life has been the biggest challenge.
Try to identify an area of law that excites you and be prepared to work ferociously hard in the early years as you learn your subject. Do not be afraid to seek out a mentor to help you move forward in your career. Please don’t be daunted by fear of what you do not know when you start out; we have all started from this position and if you work hard you will soon acquire the skills you need to do well. As the saying goes, the secret of getting ahead is getting started.