BY today’s standards the legal world continues to be perceived as a male dominated profession. But national firm Shoosmiths says it is bucking the trend, with two thirds of its fee earners being women.
According to the Law Society’s latest statistical report, of 134,378 solicitors on the roll at the firm, which has its Birmingham office on Colmore Row, 55.7 per cent are men, and 44.3 per cent women. In 2007, 108,407 solicitors held current practising certificates, with 43.4 per cent held by women, and 56.6 per cent held by men.
And it is one of the reasons why Helen Wilson, partner and head of the firm’s Birmingham-based banking team, was drawn to the firm.
“I pursued a career in law principally because my parents encouraged me to have a career of my own, where I could dictate where I worked and lived. My father worked for Nationwide Building Society and was regularly promoted, which meant that the family was constantly being uprooted,” she said.
“I qualified into banking and finance in 1999, an area where there have always been fewer female lawyers, bankers and intermediaries.”
And Helen says her experience has been a wholly positive one.
“Banking is a very competitive industry, which suits me down to the ground. My father forged a successful career in banking, so it was part of the environment I’d been brought up in. It was also a very fashionable sector at the time, and so I thought, why not?
“Although there are fewer women than men in both the banking and the legal sectors, it has allowed women to have more of an impact in the market and in the profession as a whole because we are naturally ‘drawn to each other’ professionally.”
And Helen says the predominantly male-led banking industry has had a positive impact on her career.
“As I gained more experience, I found that relationships with bankers and intermediaries were easily formed with both men and women. I climbed the career ladder at the same time as my male counterparts and have built a successful, professional and social network, comprising both genders.”
As Helen’s career progressed her priorities changed, and she decided to take time out to start a family, a decision that in previous years could have caused a number of problems for a career woman intending to return to work.
She now works a four-day week at Shoosmiths.
“Returning to work post-maternity leave was a positive experience. A number of law firms were willing to take me on board as a senior banking lawyer at partner level, and on a part-time basis to ensure a work-life balance.
“I accepted Shoosmiths’ offer of employment because of its national reputation, its culture and its genuine views on work-life balance.
“Shoosmiths was and is an exciting new brand in Birmingham, and which continues to challenge existing legal providers, and I wanted to be part of that.”
Helen now manages a team of three, two of whom are women.
“Times really have changed and there are now many successful young female solicitors coming up through the legal ranks. Debra Mitchell, a solicitor in my team is an excellent example of this.”
Prior to joining Helen’s department earlier this year, Debra worked for Wragge & Co and spent three months on secondment at Barclays Bank.
“Mine is an incredibly busy role, but it’s also very satisfying, and I have benefited from having a very strong, supportive team.”
Helen believes the legal profession still lacks enough female lawyers, though a recent Law Society report states: “For each of the last ten years women have formed the majority of new admissions to the profession, and on current trends it is expected that women will continue to make up just over half of new entrants.”
“As a woman, I feel there are still barriers to break through and ‘glass ceilings to shatter’. That is not to say that genuine progress is not being made, and a balanced attitude towards male and female legal professionals is being forged.
“As human beings, we all need and want a work-life balance, and I think society is slowly beginning to accept that. It’s a fact of life that as you get older, your priorities do change.
“The difference is, employers like Shoosmiths are encouraging and embracing these changes, taking into account peoples’ abilities and experience, rather than their gender.
“As a result, high calibre men and women are being drawn to its doorstep, which in turn is helping the profession secure for itself a much more positive image.”