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What dictates firms of choice for male and female lawyers

Recent research suggests that men and women want to work for different Australian law firms. Why?

user iconLawyers Weekly 03 March 2023 Careers
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As part of the publication of findings from the most recent Legal Firm of Choice Survey, conducted by Lawyers Weekly and Momentum Intelligence, this masthead revealed which Australian law firms both male and female practitioners would most want to move to in the next 12 months, if given the choice.

The differences in firms of choice between men and women in law, as evidenced by the findings, demonstrate — as noted at the time by Lawyers Weekly editor Jerome Doraisamy — “how critically important it is for legal employers — firms, in-house teams, and government departments alike — to take a more holistic, idiosyncratic approach to managing individual staff members”.

“In the post-pandemic world, legal professionals are more attuned to what they need in order to perform at optimal levels, and employers would do well to remember that what one lawyer wants or values may vary wildly from the colleague who sits in the next office (or is working remotely),” he warned.


Reflecting on the aforementioned findings, Naiman Clarke managing director Elvira Naiman said that the differences in firm choices between male and female lawyers were “not surprising, in many ways”.

“It is still the reality in most households, especially with two professionals at the helm, that the female will take on more family-related responsibilities than the male,” she noted.

“Even if chores are shared equally, it is widely accepted that the ‘mental load’, the term for the invisible labour involved in managing a household and family, still typically falls on women’s shoulders — that is true across most of Australia.”

“This makes the firms of choice [by men and women] more about perceived flexibility and work/life balance policies more than anything else,” Ms Naiman surmised.

“Some of the top tiers have, historically, had family-friendly policies and senior women sharing roles, and those tend to be the firms preferenced by female lawyers. It is notable that the ‘female’ list contains many of the firms that are telling us [as recruiters] they would consider part-time or ‘reduced hours’ candidate applications.”

“I think, collectively, that list would be viewed as being on balance ‘less intense and less pressured’ than others,” she submitted.

Male lawyer considerations have generally seemed, Ms Naiman went on, to be more focused on branding, quality of work and salary.

“I think that list is reflected by the fact that female lawyers of a certain age (say, post-five-to-seven years’ PQE) would list work/life balance and/or a ‘nice’/’friendly’ environment as being in the top two considerations for them, whereas on average, male lawyers might consider those factors as being three to five in order of importance if at all,” she said.

Coaching Advocates co-founder and director Katie Gray made similar observations noting that — when choosing a workplace — professionals tend to base their decision on their perception of an organisation’s culture.

“This perception is shaped by their opinion of the firm and their interpretation of the firm’s brand. For lawyers, it’s probable that they would select a firm where they feel they will be included or where they aspire to be included,” she said.

“Self-aware lawyers will naturally seek to align themselves with a firm that shares their values. This may involve promoting specific talents, attracting certain types of work, or projecting a distinct culture.”

While we are not able to draw any conclusions as to why men and women might see particular law firms in different lights, Ms Gray mused, the conversations she has had with lawyers she works with leads her to deduce that most lawyers want to work at firms that promote flexibility without it having an impact on their career trajectory.

“Post-pandemic, we have certainly noticed an increase in the number of men who are determined to carve out more time to contribute to the family unit or pursuits outside work,” she said.

In the past fortnight, Lawyers Weekly has published the Top 25 Attraction Firms ranking for 2022–23, detailing which firms lawyers in private practice would most like to move to. Also revealed last week were findings that one-quarter of lawyers plan to leave their current firms and will do so in the coming months, and which lawyers are most likely to leave in the near future.

Moreover, and for the first time, the Legal Firm of Choice Survey polled in-house respondents, exploring — among other things — which law firms law departments engaged, the volume of law firms utilised by one’s law department in the past year, whether those in-house professionals would recommend their chosen firms to others, and how they would rank the performance of the firms engaged.

Lawyers Weekly has also revealed the firms of choice broken down by gender, as well as the preferred BigLaw employers of those under 30, those aged between 30 and 39, and those aged between 40 and 49.