I wish us wider representation in senior positions in the legal profession, equal treatment, access to promotion, full and effective participation, and equal opportunities for leadership. And I wish for none of us to experience diminished opportunities or unfavorable career limitations because of gender.
The question is not how to make these wishes come true over the next 12 months, but rather what steps in this direction can be taken in the coming new year, because – while we are certainly on the right track – we’ve still got a long way to go.
Under the ambitious goals of Envision 2030, we must achieve gender parity at the most senior levels by 2030, consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality). And so, the clock is ticking. In a matter of weeks, we will not only be a year more mature, but we’ll have a year less to achieve this.
Today, the average figure across the CEE market is only 30% female partners but this figure is not reflected in all countries of the region. While Croatia or Romania have already achieved the benchmark ratio promoted by the IBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, Poland, with a result of 25%, has a lot of catching up to do (CEE Legal Matters, November 2021). A smaller number of female partners in relation to male partners is, however, not only seen in the European market. In comparison, slightly poorer average results were noted by the National Association of Women Lawyers in the 2019 Survey Report on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. Among the largest U.S. firms, women remained about 30% of non-equity partners and about 20% of equity partners. The progress of recent years is visible, but women still struggle to access leadership positions and the number of females progressing to partnership is still small. Why? According to the 2021 HRK (an HR consultancy) report Female Leaders in Law Firms, four out of five female lawyers at the largest Polish law firms have encountered the so-called “glass ceiling” resulting from negative appraisals based solely on gender.
Building a stronger presence of women on the market can be facilitated by choosing legal brand management as an alternative legal profession path, allowing women in public-facing roles to shape the perception of women’s roles in the profession. This can be seen by women who – in addition to their professional achievements in law – are engaged in social, charitable and educational, and pro bono causes, support other women, and, often, are also qualified in management, sociology, or social sciences. The experience gained from practicing law is invaluable in managing a law firm, in addition to first-hand experience on the subject matter of being a female lawyer.
These are the reasons why some of us want to work in the legal business, at first as lawyers, and then as managers responsible for the development of law firms. Not only do we want to be responsible for brand growth (in numbers), but to shape the direction of this growth. We want to underline the importance of work culture, diversity, and inclusivity – in a particular organization and the wider legal market. There are crucial decisions to make: which practices to develop, which projects to apply for, whom to hire, and whom to promote internally. The desired direction is about dealing flexibly with female partners at different stages of their professional lives, which mix with personal lives. For this, one needs the right long-term optics, and the ability to view female partnerships as a long-term partnership.
In 2019, I was interviewed on the occasion of my nomination on The Legal 500 GC Powerlist. At that time, I wished for the legal profession to be a model of women’s unity and solidarity, and this is still my wish today. This vision is becoming closer thanks to the tireless work of today’s forward-thinking and brightest legal organizations. Thanks to their involvement in social, political, and professional activities, the role and position of women lawyers are growing. My thanks to CEE Legal Matters for the invitation to present the Guest Editorial and for making this magazine a space open for statements such as mine.
By Anna Szepietowska, Partner and Marketing & PR Director, Kochanski & Partners