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Organizing for Change: Poland’s Women in Law Foundation Aims High

Organizing for Change: Poland’s Women in Law Foundation Aims High

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According to CEE Legal Matters’ 2019 By the Numbers report, the gender balance at commercial law firms in Poland up to the senior associate level is fairly even, with 44.58% being women. However, at the partner level things change drastically, with women representing fewer than 25%. Even then, other reports suggest, many of the women lawyers who do make partner do so not at the larger, high-profile law firms, but at smaller boutiques. The “Women in Law” foundation in Poland was created to address this imbalance, and other forms of gender inequality in the legal industry, with a special focus on legal tech.

Inspiration Strikes

Women in Law founder Kamila Kurkowska began her career in the legal and consulting sector, spending six years in the tax and legal departments of Deloitte. Two years ago she began working on a project with two prominent business psychologists dedicated to diversity; she describes the experience of discovering the difference between working with lawyers and working with general businessmen and women, particularly those working in progressive and innovative fields of study, as a revelation.

Subsequently, as an attendee at a 2019 legal tech conference, Kurkowska became aware that, although approximately half the attendees were female, only one of the 11 speakers was a woman. Struck by the realization, she reached out to the speaker – Katarzyna Abramowicz, founder of data security software startup Specfile. Congratulating Abramowicz on her participation, Kurkowska commented on what a progressive triumph it was to be invited to speak at such a male-dominated event. It turned out … Abramowicz hadn’t been invited at all. She had invited herself.

Kurkowska says, “it occurred to me that the scarcity of female speakers at such events perpetuates a vicious cycle. If women aren’t seen or heard,” she concluded, “organizers will not think of them when putting subsequent events together, and nothing will change.” She resolved to address the issue and find ways to actively support gender diversity in the industry.

Thought Into Action

Fired with resolve, Kurkowska launched the Women in Law foundation in May, 2019, to place women front and center alongside their male counterparts in Poland’s legal industry. The foundation’s activities include a wide array of events, competitions and mentoring programs for law students, and multimedia publications and other initiatives to address the discrepancies of gender diversity in Poland. 

The foundation’s first conference took place in October 2019, attracting some 200 attendees and broad media coverage from leading Polish outlets. Since then, it has also hosted a number of regular, smaller-scale meet-ups to showcase and network key female experts in the market. The first of these smaller gatherings, in November of last year, saw approximately 40 men and women discussing the lawyer’s role in responsible fashion – i.e., sustainable and ethical production and design practices. Both lawyers and fashion industry professionals spoke at the event – a tradition the foundation has maintained at its most recent meet-up, in late February of this year, concerning cybersecurity, with speakers including both female lawyers and representatives from Accenture and the Warsaw police.

Significantly, and to make it easier for the many working parents who want to attend its events, the foundation hosts its meet-ups at the Central House of Technology – an educational center in Warsaw – and provides simultaneous childcare in the form of educational workshops on subjects like programming and robotics for the kids.

The foundation is nothing if not energetic. Future plans include inviting female law students to submit articles connecting law and technology to win a cash prize plus a three-month internship in participating law firms such as Polowiec & Wspolnicy, Roedl and Partner, CMS, PwC Legal, Greenberg Traurig, Maruta Wachta, and Lesnodorski, Slusarek i Wspolnicy. In April, the foundation will start a mentoring program dedicated to female lawyers aged 28-30, with experts – both male and female, lawyers and non-lawyers – available to help. Multimedia publications are also on the horizon, such as “Herstory” video interviews with prominent female lawyers and online and print articles about gender diversity and new technology.

Agnieszka Krysik of KrysikLaw has been involved with the foundation since the beginning. “The idea came from the need to build a form of support for women in the legal sector,” she says. “From the very beginning Kamila believed in the technological future in the legal industry, the development of which has an impact on the entire legal market - which is particularly visible in the current situation related to the epidemic crisis.”

Of course, as achieving the goal of gender equality requires the involvement of both genders, Kurkowska stresses the importance of engaging men in the foundation’s work as well, highlighting the fact that its six-member board has an even number of both men and women.

One of those male board members, Cezary Zelaznicki, is also Managing Partner and Diversity & Inclusion Leader for PwC Legal in Poland. His enthusiasm for the foundation is obvious, and he points enthusiastically to a panel he joined at a foundation conference called Glass Ceiling or Labyrinth in the Legal Profession. According to Zelaznicki, “we discussed how our perceptions, stereotypes, and unctuous biases often negatively impact women’s career choices and career opportunities. There is a lot of work to be done in order to overcome these stereotypes and there is an important role to play by both men and women. Our foundation creates a number of opportunities to discuss these matters and share ideas on how to create a more diverse legal community and equal opportunities for both men and women.”

While the primary sponsors and partners of the foundation are law firms (and one tech firm), Kurkowska is looking into city grants for future sources of funding. She also wants to create a for-profit education program on new technology for lawyers, also with the aim of potentially generating further commercial support.

And although the foundation was launched in and focuses its work in Warsaw, Kurkowska has an eye on taking the initiative farther afield. She plans attend conferences in Vienna, Wroclav and Frankfurt later in the year, to establish connections with similar parallel foundations globally.

Ultimately, the future is bright. According to Agnieszka Krysik, “currently we are facing a time of change and rotation in the legal market. Especially due to the economic situation. The changes will affect not only the labor market but also the ways legal services are provided. Our task as a foundation will be to provide special support to women who will enter or re-enter the labor market as a lawyer, judge, or prosecutor. This will be a challenge to which we will devote a large part of our attention.”

This Article was originally published in Issue 7.3 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

 

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