Recently I was talking about careers with a lawyer I had just met. She started in private practice and worked at the same firm for 10 years, rising to equity partner. But then she found herself a single mother with a 6-year-old child and little or no time. While struggling with this dilemma, she learned of a government service job that fit her practice area and offered more control over her hours. She took the job and although not immune from weekend or late-night work, especially before trial, she did have more time to spend with her child. Now, more than 15 years later, she continues to be challenged by the work and soon will watch her child graduate from college.
This story is not unusual for women in the law, in Wisconsin, the United States, and around the world.
An International Institute of Law Association Chief Executives program I attended titled “Gender in Justice – An Insight Into the Worldwide Profession From the Perspective of Gender” illustrated that although details differ from country to country, the pattern is much the same.
In Japan, the government has set a target of at least 30 percent of lawyers being women by 2020. Women’s income is 60-62 percent of men’s. Women often are assigned “lower-level” cases, which helps explain the income gap. The Japan Federal Bar Association has taken steps to promote women in the profession, including establishing a quota system in the association leadership for committee membership and certain positions. Women are exempted from the $113 (U.S.) monthly bar dues for one month before and three months after a child’s birth, and men and women who are primary caregivers have an exemption from dues until the child is two years old.
In Zambia, women are approximately 30 percent of lawyers. Most work for government; it is difficult for women to develop books of business because local social convention frowns on women spending time at bars and golf courses. Although the first female chief justice recently took office, women have had greater success in bar leadership at the local level than the national level.
In Germany and Norway, women are approximately 30 percent of the lawyers, whereas in France, Bulgaria, and Belgium they are almost 50 percent. In Germany, women are overrepresented in government service as judges and prosecutors and make up less than 20 percent of law firm partners. In Norway, many women with children leave private practice after having their second child because they don’t feel welcomed back to their firms; then they move into corporate or governmental practice.
All these countries’ bar associations or law societies are working to promote equality, whether setting quotas as in Japan or focusing on increasing the number of women on bar committees.
The New Zealand bar had 47 percent women lawyers in 2014 and projects more than 50 percent female membership by 2020. However, few women progress to senior status. Many go in-house after three years of practice. Because women tend to migrate to or be placed in practice areas that are lowest paid and lowest resourced, very few are appointed to the coveted position of queens counsel, who tend to come from the commercial bar.
All these countries’ bar associations or law societies are working to promote equality, whether setting quotas as in Japan or focusing on increasing the number of women on bar committees. For example, conscious effort in Germany increased the percentage of women serving on the German Bar Association’s board from less than 20 percent to 40 percent in one year.
As you can see, situations in other countries differ in detail but are similar in many ways to the United States. In Wisconsin, it is just one of the many aspects of diversity and inclusion being addressed by our Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee.