About the Author:
MCI, Arb, International Lawyer, certified to practice in India and New York
The Indian legal industry has seen a growth in the number of female lawyers entering the profession. Traditionally seen as a male-dominated profession, female lawyers are making their mark increasingly in the world of litigation and law firms. However, despite the increasing numbers, there is a tendency for women lawyers to disappear as they progress up the hierarchical system. In the beginning, when junior lawyers enter into the field, you will see more female lawyers as compared to the top where men are in dominance. Commentators have described this to be the ‘dropping off’ of women lawyers along 20-30 years of their careers. Why exactly does this happen?
Critics are quick to point out that women are given unchallenging work and how gender biases are prevalent in the fraternity. Law firms are less likely to invest in women, for fear that they may leave the profession for other reasons later. This creates a mindset where employers are less likely to invest in women lawyers at crucial points in their careers, i.e. when they are about to switch from one employer to another.
What is worse, is outdated perceptions of how women are ‘soft’ and men are ‘tough’ also determine hiring choices. Many women are even mistaken for being administrative assistants, despite having years of experience as a lawyer. Women lawyers also have to deal with being offered less professional fees than their male counterparts. There is this justification that female lawyers will get pregnant and married, and so the risk justifies the lesser fee as the firm will need an extra hand during that time of absence. Men are affected too, with being saddled with a perception that they ‘have nothing to lose’ and so have to work long hours, thus further undermining the status of women further.
Drain on Resources
The longer maternity benefits and benefits are seen as a ‘drain’ on resources – the more female labour participation will suffer. There is a need for a systemic mindset shift, where legal employers are willing to invest in female talent, and metrics are created to increase gender diversity in the profession. Given the structure of court practices in India, women in litigation do not have their usual weeks of maternity leave. They also have to confront gender biases at every level – clients, other lawyers, judges, and the public at large. Raising one’s voice can be seen as challenging the norm for the gender – of being unassertive and ‘quiet.’
Women lawyers have benefitted from the shift in corporate law firm culture, moving from a male-dominated system to one that allows for more women to become partners and senior associates. The pay at some of these firms is at par with what men at the same rank and experience level get, and so in a sense, there is wage equality.
The ‘meritocracy’ model has helped many female lawyers create a mark for themselves, who are now well-regarded as authorities in the field. This is truly the way to go, where female lawyers become role models for the next generation. Currently, women may make only 15% of the senior lawyer proportion at a firm. However, with time and a deliberate increase in changing mindsets, this percentage can increase.
 Samarth Chaddha, ‘Female Lawyers Still Battle Gender Discrimination’ https://www.americancourthouse.com/personal-injury/women-lawyers-facing-gender-discrimination  Legally India, ‘Women in Indian law firms: In a growing minority’: https://www.legallyindia.com/india-unleashed-editorial/women-in-indian-law-firms-in-a-growing-minority-20190601-11000  Sonal Makhija, ‘Indian women legal lawyers face many challenges’ http://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/indian-women-legal-lawyers-face-many-challenges  Nandini Khaitan, ‘The Firm Women: A perspective on Indian women working in law firms’: https://www.barandbench.com/columns/the-firm-women-a-perspective-on-indian-women-working-in-law-firms