The AWS Returners Conference eases the sting of an approaching cold snap for Kevin Poulter
It was only last month that I was celebrating the innocence of youth but since then my thoughts have turned much more macabre. The natural world has changed from its warm, lush splendour to a stark minimalism seemingly overnight as the trees shed their leaves and a frost covers the streets and fields. The already overfed squirrels in St James’s Park are filling their cheeks to maximum capacity in preparation for hibernation that happily coincides with fewer picnicking tourists (surely a Darwinian theory?) and once again the nights are coming sooner and weekends seem a little shorter. Any hope of an Indian summer is as dead as the goodwill and cheer that we enjoyed over the Olympic season. The public transport system that was momentarily fully operational and moved smiling, chatting, happy-go-lucky commuters from place to place is once again a melting pot of steaming misery and weekend maintenance works. We have been plunged into the depths of autumn and with only a colder, wetter winter to look forward to, the outlook for the profession may seem equally bleak.
However there are fresh opportunities on the horizon. With disappointing figures suggesting that women make up less than 10 per cent of the top 100’s equity partners it is reassuring to know that the Association of Women Solicitors continues to work in encouraging and supporting females returning to the profession. Having been invited to speak at the AWS Returners Conference, I was surprised to see the breadth in age and experience of the delegates. The fact that the conference was held in a stately home hotel that resembled Downton Abbey’s less salubrious cousin was of course a draw for me, but I was enthused as much by the optimism and drive of those in attendance as I was by the ample portions of food, drink and good company. The event was oversubscribed and the feedback has been excellent. I was talking about the use of social media – both in terms of career and personal development and the impact of this medium on the profession and the law. It is remarkable how much this area has developed in such a short period of time and only on discussing this with those who have been out of the loop for a few years, for whatever reason, is the impact truly noticeable.
Behind the statistics
The junior end of the profession is embracing and nurturing what appears to be an ever growing proportion of female trainees, currently 59 per cent. This is reflected on qualification. Of course, questions should be asked at a wider professional level as to why there aren’t more women in senior positions. The profession isn’t alone. There has been much in the press about under representation in FTSE companies and the Supreme Court still has only one lone alto voice singing out, albeit with good volume and pitch, from the masculine bass tones of the rest of the choir. What frustrates me, however, is that we are often presented with surveys and statistics that only show half a picture. The figures at the top will inevitably look bad, especially when compared to those at the bottom, but are they worse in the law than they are in other professions? Rarely drawn from the conclusions to these studies are the reasons that fewer women progress to senior roles. Is it because of traditional (male) attitudes towards the role of women in the home? Is it the lack of support for working parents or of opportunity for men to share childcare responsibilities? We should be supportive of all our colleagues, regardless of their home life, background and personal circumstances, but we shouldn’t make people feel bad by inflicting truly old fashioned prejudices. Let’s act like proper lawyers and look behind the statistics for once and address those reasons and concerns, as the AWS have and should be applauded for.
I should also formally pass on my congratulations to law graduate John Whaite who presented the best buns and dipped his fancy most successfully in the final of the Great British Bake Off and was crowned master baker by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. With ambitions to take on the French at their own patisserie game – and inevitably produce a book in time for Christmas – law graduate John is perhaps wise to follow his own fancy rather try to prove himself in the Great British Law Off, where the technical challenges are more strict and not always with the necessary ingredients.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 1 November 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission