Women Business Lawyers Initiative

Women Business Lawyers' Initiative

The term ‘feminisation of the legal profession’ is used often to describe changes in the legal profession, particularly the increase of women in it. This is both a misnomer and misleading. While women generally outnumber men in law schools and often as junior associates in law firms, men continue to outnumber women in senior positions and do so significantly. 

The IBA’s LPRU undertook the women in business law project to secure information as to why women continue to experience barriers to the most senior positions in commercial law firms. Our findings are disheartening. Women’s representation as partners in law firms remains low, particularly as equity partners where it is often less than 20%. Discrimination against, and sexual harassment of, women continues to be a significant problem. These findings are remarkably similar in both common law and civil law countries.

 Key findings include:

  • Mentorship programmes are important, however sponsorship is critical and the process by which sponsorship occurs in law firms needs to be formalised and made transparent.
  • Diversity policies have not significantly improved gender equity in law firms primarily because such policies are designed to address the problem of women, not the workplace. 
  • There is a need for law firms – in particular, senior partners – to conduct thorough reviews of the structure of and structures in their law firms to identify the structural barriers that impede the progress of women (among others).
  • Billable hour requirements, among others, in many law firms has increased by around 80% since the 1950s, which places an enormous strain on any lawyer who has interests outside of the law firm.

The IBA LPRU encourages all lawyers, particularly senior partners, to read this report and welcomes any feedback you may wish to make to it. We are particularly interested to learn from you what you think can be done to address the shortcomings identified. These can be addressed to the IBA LPRU at: LPRU@int-bar.org

The initial focus of this initiative was conducting events in the MENA region and parts of Africa to encourage continued development of these skills. More information on this part of the initiative can be found here: Women in business law: Africa and MENA region

It is apparent, however, that women’s lack of progress in business law is not confined to certain regions. It is in this context that the LPRU sought to obtain more information on why it is lawyers, particularly women lawyers, who are leaving law firms and the legal profession. More information of that work can be found here.