Legal TV dramas, some clever and complex, others easy watching comedies – I love them all. A lot of the legal dramas have strong female leads, for example, Ally McBeal, The Good Wife, and yes even Legally Blonde (my guilty pleasure…shh don’t tell). I could not imagine a world without a good legal drama.
However, the clever and witty female characters are often not taken seriously in the profession by their colleagues, managers, or clients. They often seem to have to be better, smarter, and funnier than their male counterparts to get up the career ladder. In legal dramas you often see negotiations, deals, and decisions being made on the golf course, in the pub, or at male-only Members’ Clubs. Yes, I am aware women can play golf as well but I could never imagine myself on the golf course, what would this mean for me? One example that comes to mind is when Mike Ross and Louis Litt in Suits get a client to sign with them in a tennis club for exclusive members. Yes, I am a HUGE Suits fan.
From how it is portrayed on TV, it is easy to believe that to progress to the top of the legal profession you have to be a certain type of person or even a certain type of man. Since High School, I knew I wanted to work in the legal profession. The specifics changed, but studying law at University remained my aim. I was very lucky to have supportive parents, teachers, and friends that made me feel like this was possible. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. However, although I believed I could get my foot in the door at a law firm if I got lucky, I did still think progressing up the career ladder as a woman would be nearly impossible. I had doubts that I would be taken seriously as a lawyer by managers, colleagues, and clients.
After starting work at Attwells, within months I learned that not all firms are the same, they all have their own culture and values. I learned that all across the industry women can be very successful in the legal profession. A far cry from the ‘old boys club’ the profession is portrayed as. When joining Attwells I learned from Lisa Nyland, whose journey in the law profession shows it’s not all about Oxbridge degrees and friends in the right places. She began her career as an assistant and progressed to being the Partner responsible for the entire conveyancing department at Attwells. Once I had qualified I also was managed by Laura Catania who became a mentor to me. She has since also become a Partner at Attwells too. Currently, three out of the six partners at Attwells are women. Not only do I see a high percentage of women in the workforce but I can see them in the leadership team and in the Partnership as well. And, it turns out you do not have to be interested in the same hobbies as the partners or play tennis or golf at the same club as your managers for them to notice your contribution to the workplace. I have still never stepped foot on a golf course.
It is true that law used to be an old man’s club, and like many myths, there remains a degree of truth behind it. Currently only a third of court judges are women and just 34% of partners, despite women making up 50% of lawyers. The legal profession does have a problem but it is improving year on year. More women are working in the legal profession and more women are progressing up the career ladder each year. So do not let the culture continue and let’s get rid of the myth. It does not matter if you are a woman or a man or if you like golf, football, or netball – you can be a solicitor, manager, or partner regardless of background and connections. You can be a Harvey Spector, Mike Ross, Donna Paulsen, or Jessica Parker. I have just done an online test and am a Jessica Pearson! The truth is there is no one type of lawyer, lawyers are just people with strengths and weaknesses. You just need to find the right firm for you, somewhere you can fit in and use your strengths and improve your weaknesses. If you do, you can make a successful lawyer regardless of your gender.