What does it mean to be a woman in family law today?

What does it mean to be a woman in family law today?

In honour of International Women’s Day this week, Today’s Family Lawyer asked professionals in the family law industry to give us their thoughts on what it’s like to be a woman working in law today and any challenges they face.

Marilyn Stowe, UK’s most famous family lawyers and legal entrepreneurs said:

“When I was at University I was one of 12 women/120 students. Today, the percentage of women graduating in law is well over 50%. A high proportion qualify and become family lawyers. Why?

“Today, nearly fifty years after the last major changes, family law is recognised in its own right as an enormous, fascinating area of the law. It spans a range of complex and diverse subjects, from public child law to multi-jurisdictional ultra-high net wealth divorce. From non-married property adjustment to surrogacy, from issues even from before the birth of a child, to legally permitting a tragic death.

“With development of its caselaw and precedent, family law has become not only intellectually challenging but it requires masses of emotional intelligence. Women practising in family law today are extremely fortunate to work in such a rich field. It’s a crying shame that as the law has developed, legal aid has been cut to shreds and many are deprived of access to justice.

“The challenges women face in practising law are perennial. Men still mainly head up most of the big commercial firms which don’t handle less remunerative family law. Women may still have a glass ceiling to overcome in those firms and its tough. That there are so many women practising family law is probably a consequence:- it’s easier to get a job in a smaller family law firm and be independently successful. It’s easier to hold down the day job, job share or work part time, as necessary and have a family.

“Being a good lawyer, running a home, having a family – none of it together is easy. Its more of a roller coaster ride of a lifestyle, but one I never regretted for a minute.”

Samantha Woodham, barrister and co-founder of The Divorce Surgery commented. She said:

“Every year there are more female roles models within the legal profession paving the way. The recent appointment of Lady Justice Rose to the Supreme Court is another milestone. But we have much, much further to go. Current statistics show that 83% of all Silks are men. We need to work harder to retain talent and ensure the legal profession is diverse and properly reflective of the society it serves.

“The key challenge is retaining talent. For too long we have allowed working patterns to thrive which rely on successful professionals being unable to combine work with home commitments. This has to change. Flexible working needs to become the norm for all professionals, so that parents do not need to choose between caring responsibilities and a successful career. The pandemic has been hard on so many, but has offered a once in a generation opportunity to reassess work-life balance and create a working culture which is fit for purpose and does not discriminate. I hope we don’t squander this opportunity. Business as usual will simply lead to further loss of talent. This is the time to make work practices and cultures reflect the diverse workforce we want to promote.”

Debbie Heald, family law partner at Stowe Family Law LLP gave her view on what it was like to work in the industry and the challenge she faces. She added:

“It is both extremely rewarding and extremely challenging in equal measures. There are numerous challenges not least juggling work commitments with family life and seeking to achieve a healthy balance.”



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