The only places female lawyers excell in are public and private colleges, that too as teachers. The female representation across bar councils of the country has been a shocking five per cent and these numbers only get more discouraging. What is the reason? Why is female participation so low in the legal field which boasts to be at the forefront of all rights? The answer lies in the environment and what a female lawyer has to go through.
Contrary to popular belief, female lawyers do not opt for this career just to receive better marriage proposals. Most female lawyers are hardworking women who take it upon themselves to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families.
Unfortunately on day one, they realise, like all other graduates that most of what they learned in legal schools is not applicable when it comes to practice and that they have to learn many things to simply understand a case much less prepare its arguments and understand procedure that governs it. For this, new graduates rely greatly on seniors whose firm they have joined. The juniors have to literally run around their seniors, in the hopes of learning something that would enable them to go far in their careers. This is where females suffer the most.
The legal field is a male-dominated profession and many lawyers believe it should remain so. They hold outdated and misogynistic views about females, where they should be either married and staying at home or at best teaching some where. Many in their attempts to be kind will tell a newly appointed female lawyer that the profession is not for her and when she argues, she is told even more casually that she should be prepared for all kinds of harassment, even at the hands of the senior that is supposed to mentor her.
If she makes it past the first hurdle, she quickly finds that most senior lawyers would rather teach the tricks of the trades to her male counterparts and do not show the same dedication to mentoring her. Furthermore, seniors often choose men to assign cases to and hand females token work, if they are lucky. In most cases, her job is to follow the senior around whilst the other (male) juniors handle the procedures and working of the case. Such cases early on in the career help young lawyers network and form connections, an opportunity denied to females.
The professional ethics and competency of female lawyers are also questioned by clients, their peers, and their seniors. A senior lawyer rarely defends the competency of their female juniors, knowing fully well that they have invested little to nothing in teaching her the ropes.
Many female lawyers also face workplace harassment, which has been a leading factor for many dropping out of this profession. Some seniors and their male peers often see young female lawyers as easy prey and if they spurn their advances, they face slander and defamation. Indeed many female lawyers have experienced their seniors making it quite clear that if they don’t receive their advances, they can walk out the door. Often such harassment is committed under the guise of teaching new lawyers ‘societal interaction’. This humiliation shatters many a female lawyers’ professional spirit often resulting in her quitting.
In most cases, these female lawyers wish to earn and provide for their families but soon realise that their earning potential is non-existent. They are usually paid less than half of what their male counterparts earn, that too if they are extremely competent. In most cases, women will be asked to work for free and not be given enough work to support her budding career, hence their legal skills also remain underdeveloped.
Females are suppressed professionally and often asked to stay away from criminal and corporate law, which are lucrative and can help create a legal practice, and are told to focus on family matters like divorce or maintenance cases. This professional bullying forces them to often enter fields that they had little to no interest in to begin with and forces them to pursue a dead-end career. Many women also leave the field due to the monotony of the law disciplines offered to them.
In such a hostile environment, only a select few, often daughters of established lawyers, can earn and actually play a role in the legal field but such privilege is not available to most female lawyers, who are then forced to face patriarchal horrors.
All of these factors negatively contribute to a female lawyer’s career, often demoralising her and rendering her ineffective in the legal field.
Over the last 70 years, the legal profession has become a misogynistic boys club that has made it its mission to keep females out and by doing so has weakened the potential of this field, bringing forth the days of legal darkness that we see today.
The female lawyers that we lose at the hands of the patriarchy could very well be the bright legal minds that could have aided a constitutional and legal evolution in the country. It is imperative that we do not keep making the same mistake and immediately open our doors and minds to a reality where female lawyers are participating in the field as equals.
We as lawyers must band together to support these bright young women and stand against all those who may want to snuff out their careers, no matter how senior or respectable they may be in our community. We can come together to form organisations that help female lawyers not only learn the ropes of a legal practice but also gain legal as well as moral support to face the mostly patriarchal world. The female bar must stand together if we are to beat the system that has been enforced upon us all and help create a professional and prosperous legal community.