find the latest legal job
Senior Associate - Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Come work for a firm ranked in Lawyers Weekly Top 25 Attraction Firms
View details
Associate - Workplace Relations & Safety
Category: Industrial Relations and Employment Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Employer of choice · Strong team culture
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: All Perth WA
· Freelance opportunities through Vario from Pinsent Masons
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Adelaide SA
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Firm expectations working against women

Firm expectations working against women

Women lawyers battle the perception that working part-time means working less hard than their full-time counterparts, an audience at the Women Legal 2013 conference heard last week.

Women lawyers battle the perception that working part-time means working less hard than their full-time counterparts, an audience at the Women Legal 2013 conference heard last week (31 January).

In a panel discussion, Dianne Beer, special counsel at Herbert Geer, Kristen Lopes, a partner at Colin Biggers & Paisley, and Patricia Monemvasitis, a partner at Carroll & O'Dea Lawyers, shared their personal experiences and questioned societal and law firm attitudes to women who want to achieve career success and still have a family life.

Beer, formerly a practice group leader at KPMG Legal and Abbott Tout, described the hostility she experienced when returning to work as a partner after having her first child.

“I was told by one of my partners basically that he felt he was feeding my child,” she said.

 “I was not given an office in spite of the fact that I was jointly liable on the lease. I had to engage in a whole lot of game play; sitting in one of the meeting rooms to maximise the inconvenience for other people for the situation to resolve.”

It wasn’t so much a prejudice against her decision to return to work, said Beer, but rather a feeling that (despite being penalised in the points system) she was taking more than she was giving in the share of the profits.

Lopes, originally from Canada, started practising law 20 years ago and was lucky to be working at a large firm in Toronto with progressive flexible work arrangements. When she moved to Australia six and a half years ago, she was in for a culture shock, she said.

“My first realisation was ‘where are the senior women in my firm?’ There were no women partners at first, and then ‘where are the senior women in business?’,” she said, adding that the issue is a societal one.

“I hadn’t been aware of that concept [of waiting lists for childcare centres] …I had to get up to speed pretty quickly.”

Lopes was the only woman partner at CBP for a number of years and the first lawyer at the firm, at the time, to have a small child, she said.

“There weren’t any other women voices at the table being heard…there were no role models, no one I could go to and say ‘how does this work, can I work flexibly?’  and given there were no policies in place I assumed not, so I worked full time,” she said.

Today Lopes leaves early two days a week to pick up her son from school and said things have changed dramatically at the firm.

Despite this, Australia still has a long way to go to come to the concept of co-parenting, she said; no workplace is structured around school hours and school holidays.

 “It’s not a women’s issue; it’s a family issue, and I think until we see more men step into the role of working flexibly it is not going to be normalised,” she said.

An unsustainable model

Monemvasitis said that women lawyers who work part-time are often forced to almost develop a veneer of working full time to fulfil their firm’s needs.

“Their clients want to deal with the lawyer they trust and when a lawyer is unavailable for a meeting that’s unacceptable,” she said.

Beer questioned how conducive such pressures, tied up with the partnership model and billable hours, are to achieving work and family success.

 “I’m wondering whether we’re struggling with this idea that attainment is to be a partner in one of these big international firms or whether it’s not going to suit us anyway because of the whole structured pressures that are put on those places and the whole economy of them,” she said.

Beer joined the profession in 1978 when “you could fire a gun in the office at 5.30pm and you wouldn’t hit a light bulb – work was over”.

“It’s a different world now. I’ve watched it spike into the glory days of 24/7 and that’s un-sustainable. People of my vintage in some big firms are being exiled from their partnerships. Selling time is a young-person business,” she said.

Part-time workers do cost a law firm and can put extra demands on the rest of the group but Beer said that, equally, the cost of losing expertise, someone trained in the systems of the place, and also recruitment costs, is quite high.

“It’s a matter of toughing it out, knowing that what you’re dong [motherhood] is important too,” she said.

Planning as to how to structure a leave period and return to work arrangement is essential, said Lopes, but each child is different, with their own timetables and attention requirements, so flexibility is also key.

“As lawyers we like to control things and plan things but some things you just have to accept as being outside of your control and make some room for that,” she said.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Firm expectations working against women
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Oct 20 2017
Podcast: One of law’s most infamous alumni – in conversation with Julian Morrow
In this episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, Melissa Coade is joined by The Chaser’s Julian Morrow....
Oct 20 2017
High Court overturns ‘excessive’ anti-protest legislation
Bob Brown’s recent victory in the High Court over the Tasmanian government was a win for fundament...
Oct 20 2017
Changes to Australian citizenship laws blocked
Attempts to beef up the requirements to obtain Australian citizenship were thwarted this week, after...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...