Prevalent issue within the legal society

"Discriminatory behaviours take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection"1. Gender discrimination, also referred to as sex discrimination, is the foundation of a prejudice against someone based solely on their gender resulting in immoral and unjust treatment. Women have been discriminated against by society for centuries, however with reforms such as the Sex Discrimination Act 19192 and Civil Rights Acts 19643 women are treated as uniform with men and have been seen to enter even those fields traditionally stereotyped as "male professions".

However, women seeking to pursue a successful career within the legal profession may still encounter this to be a challenging task in terms of acquiring equal opportunities with men to being granted partnership status in private firms and receiving equal salaries. Although such discrepancies should have been eradicated considering the transition to a society with a more liberalised attitude now, there are still reports that indicate women may still be struggling to establish their legal careers.

In order to construct a logical reasoning that answers the essay title, the subject of discrimination will be reviewed from history to the present and these factors that represent discrimination will also be examined. Women endeavoured a crusade of struggles to become acknowledged within the legal society and this is well displayed through demographics within the last century. Prior to the 1900's it would have been impossible to become a female lawyer as law schools refused all women. Even in 1913 the Law Society refused four women to sit their Law Society examinations4.

The courtrooms had gradually become a domain retained solely for men but then in 1919 the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919 was passed and this had a huge impact on women's ambitions to become solicitors and barristers. In 1922 four women passed the Law Society examinations5 and then on December 18th 1922 Carrie Morrison entered the legal society threshold and became the first female solicitor6. This led to a society being established known as the Association of Women Solicitors in 1923. This society helped to promote women's campaign to fulfil their ambitions. However, women were still discriminated against even after this.

Nine years after Carrie Morrison had been allowed to practise law, only one hundred women had qualified as solicitors since7. In 1967 a survey proved that out of ninety-six High Court Judges only seven were female and there was only one female Lord Justice of Appeal out of 358. In 1970, another policy response to sex discrimination was introduced which was the Equal Pay Act. However this also clearly failed as in the early 1980's and 1990's a four reports were released by reputable economists and also by the ABA Commission to act as evidence to the statement that gender discrimination still prevails.

The first three studies highlighted how women were being paid significantly less than male attorneys and the fourth study demonstrated that women were not able to become partners in private practices9. The following case which took place just this year attests that discrimination against women is ongoing now. In Switalski v F&C Asset Management Plc and others10 [2009] All ER (D) 06 (Jan) plaintiff claimed that her employer had been guilty of sex discrimination and victimisation.

The plaintiff was part of a legal firm and had requested holiday in order to take care of her child who suffered from severe disabilities but she was severely scrutinised for this whereas a male colleague in the same department was granted paid leave to take care of his child who also had special needs. Upon returning she "raised a lengthy grievance with the employer complaining of bullying, harassment and intimidation by T and C, and of less favourable treatment and victimisation".

This case strongly supports the statement that discrimination against women has remained within legal societies and that the behaviour towards women has not differed much. However, this may just be an anomalous case and the raw statistics listed must only be analysed and interpreted impartially as there may be other reasoning's to justify their existence. Other reliable sources such as the Law Society reports show that women are increasingly entering the legal profession. In 2007, 8626 women graduated in law and only 5036 men graduated12.

"The number of women holding practising certificates since 1998 to 2008 has nearly doubled, having increased by 96. 2%"13. The total number of male solicitors on the roll at 31st July 2008 was 76,497 and the number of female solicitors is 63,16914. These statistics prove that women have managed to cross barriers of discrimination and infiltrated the legal society successfully. "A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of… being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering…or for admission to any incorporated society".

This is the basis of the Sex Disqualification Act 1919 and states that one must not be prevented from holding a prospective post based on their gender. However, there is much concern over whether this particular legislation has been abided by. Women are still facing a barrier when it comes to progressing in the legal field in order to become a barrister, owning private partnership status in firms and becoming judges. 60% of men are partners or sole practitioners in comparison with only 40% of women16.

The chance of women becoming partners is only 17% whereas men have an almost triple the likelihood of becoming sole practitioners at 41%17. A study in 2006 showed that women amount to only 30. 4% of the practising bar with 4973 practising women barristers out of 14,890 practising barristers18. A separate study in 1998 totalled the number of particular judges as 2811 with only 11% of these being women19. These figures illustrate the extent to which women are disadvantaged to becoming partners in a private firm, becoming barristers and reaching the status of a judge.

The data acts as verification that women are not considered equally with men and this is further strengthened by research published by the Bar Council in 1992, where they stated themselves that "it is unlikely that the judicial appointment system offers equal access to women or fair access to promotion to women judges"20. Women are discriminated on the fact that they are considered to occupy different lifestyles in terms of family life and maternal obligations and these attitudes are possessed at the Bar and in top City law firms.

The Bar council's report written on sex equality states that "54% of women recorded that they were asked at an interview about marriage, children and plans to stay in the profession compared to only 20% of men"21. It can now be deduced that women are not selected for these higher roles due to the prejudice against women that they will all sacrifice their careers for the stereotyped life of a housewife. Although this prejudice should not be present, its presence can almost be justified as to why employers may feel weary of employing women into a high position.

According to the National Association of Law Placement women are attending law school, graduating and becoming associates at the same rate as their male counterparts but they are not staying within the legal profession at the same rate22. This may be a factor as to why the statistics to women as partners is dramatically low compared with those of men as women's lifestyle does impact their choices on their career. Equal Pay Act of 1970 declares that "for men and women employed on like work the terms and conditions of one sex are not in any respect less favourable than those of the other"23.

This is a reform that prevents employers from being able to treat women or men who are employed on the same terms unjustly compared to their counterpart based on their gender. This refers to aspects such as work load, working hours and pay. Nevertheless, women are still not achieving the same pay as men and current research suggests that the gross income of male solicitors is 7. 6% more than that of female solicitors24. In 2007 the Law Society decided to investigate the reality of the pay gap further and published a report on their findings.

In 2005 the median annual salary for male solicitors was 60,000 whereas for women it was 41,00025. This creates a pay gap of 32%. In 2007 the average male assistant or associate earned 46,000 compared with a female assistant earning 40,000; bringing a pay gap of 13%. The average male salaried partner would be earning 80,000 whereas the female salaried partner would be at an average of 46,999. This brings a pay gap of 41%26, leaving women earning almost half of what their male counterpart would earn. These statistics provide outrageous evidence as to the discrimination and the favouritism in place in the law field.

Many theories have been pioneered in an attempt to justify this pay gap but whether they manage to do so effectively is a matter for debate. The adapted social capital theory suggests that women earn less money because they are less involved within professional activities and work that may take place outside the "regular working hours". The Human Capital theory implies that women invest less in their career and more into their family life than men and so the consequences to these sacrifices are experienced later on through major income differences.

Upon vigilant analysis of all sources, statistics and reports, a valid and reliable conclusion can be announced to answering the title. A corroborated understanding of the discrimination issue within the legal society highlights that gender discrimination is still prevalent; especially towards women. After striving for years to even be accepted to sit examinations within the Law Society, women are still facing obstacles when trying to push their career to its highest potential. Women are not accepted into senior posts such as judicial roles.

Employers are still observing the law society as a matriarchal society where men are considered superior. There are immense salary differences between men and women and even with the theories proposed, full justification of the salary differences has not been supplied. However, women have progressed from not being able to even become a solicitor to overtaking men in the number of solicitors there are on the roll. Also, although a pay gap does exist this can be explained due to men putting in more hours and women having a higher drop out rate, and also leaving their careers at a younger age than me.

The average age of a women dropping out of a career is 35 compared to a male which is 4627. Women are not able to maximise their careers as they are dropping out so early and it is after this age that one would reach their peak in their career. In general, in the modern day society women have come far in the legal profession but are still having to overcome hurdles. Discrimination is not a subject of the past unfortunately and remnants of it still linger within legal society.


Legislation Sex Discrimination Act 1919, s1(a) Civil Rights Act 1965, The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919