Recapping Luminance’s Women in Law Breakfast

24 May 2023 | Ava Vakil

Last week, it was a pleasure to co-host Luminance’s first Women in Law Breakfast at the iconic Fortnum & Mason in London, the first in a series of networking events to connect legal professionals across the in-house community and discuss opportunities and challenges facing women in the industry today.

Bringing together several leading women from a diverse range of industries, from Finance and Engineering to Fashion and Retail, the breakfast provided an opportunity to discuss different career journeys, expand professional circles, and exchange insights about the role technology has played in facilitating flexible working. With so much insightful discussion, I wanted to share just some of the key themes that emerged from the morning.

Gender Equality in the Legal Sector

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s most recent diversity data shows that women make up 52% of the UK’s legal workforce. Yet, despite a female majority at entry level, this representation is not reflected at higher levels. Vertical inequality is particularly prevalent in the context of private practice, with women holding only 35% of Partner-level positions. This figure drops even further in respect of Equity Partners to a mere 25%.

By contrast, the SRA reported that women make up almost 60% of in-house lawyers. This transition from private practice to in-house, as well as the motivations behind this shift, was a notable theme amongst our guests. The work/life balance required to reach senior levels in private practice, unconscious bias, and more flexible working models were all cited as reasons throughout the course of the discussion.

With the next instalment of The SRA’s diversity data due for publication later this year, it will be interesting to see how these statistics have evolved since 2021 in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Flexible Working Models

Guests were all in agreement that the shift towards hybrid working has had a net positive impact, not just for women but for employees across their respective businesses. Whilst some organisations are still operating on a ‘remote first’ basis, most guests approved of the hybrid model as most conducive for knowledge sharing and cross-functional collaboration going forward.

As advanced technologies like AI become more embedded in everyday workflows, it was agreed amongst the group that the transition from remote to in-office working is becoming increasingly seamless, positively impacting businesses and their staff alike. Greater flexibility over working environments was highlighted as a particularly important consideration for the working parents in the room, whilst others acknowledged the benefits it could bring for talent retention and gender balance within organisations.

The Role of Technology

We rounded off the morning by touching on the role that technology is playing in assisting businesses with their diversity, equality, and inclusion agendas. At a high level, AI is enabling lawyers to gain a better understanding of their enterprise data, empowering key stakeholders to develop and implement the necessary strategies for their business. Moreover, with the time-savings generated by AI, DE&I audits can be kept in house rather than relying on expensive consultants or outside counsel. Guests saw this as gamechanger for internal review processes and a timely example of the power of AI, not just for legal teams but across an entire business.

To find out more about Luminance’s Women in Law event series, please email [email protected].