Firms considering flexible work practices should compare themselves with their clients, says the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights commissioner.
The Victorian Women Lawyers association has created a flexible working guide to confront gender imbalance in the legal profession.
Launched by Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights commissioner, Kate Jenkins said Flexible Work Protocols: A best practice guide for productive and engaged legal workplaces,
will be particularly useful to smaller firms, which may not have the capacity to employ a diversity manager.
“Lots of law firms are really turning their mind to what they can do practically; lots of individual partners have a personal commitment now and are trying to change how they work. What I have seen is particularly the mid and larger firms have really formal strategies and are investing in different ways of working,” said Jenkins.
She said that while many firms are making efforts to address the issue, the legal industry still has a fairly rigid approach to working overall.
“One of the challenges for women and for law firms is that despite there having been laws in place for a long time prohibiting discrimination, the statistics show that women haven’t progressed in the way that we would have expected… given the number of women who leave law schools,” said Jenkins. “The legal profession is different to say engineering in that the graduates out of law school are predominately women, and so the drop off can’t be explained by difficulties attracting people into the courses in the first place.”
By introducing flexible protocols for law firms, Jenkins said firms can proactively address gender imbalance and stop comparing themselves to each other in order to achieve change. She said what the industry needs is some leadership to recognise that working flexibly is not a bad thing.
“If they compared themselves with their clients, then they might have more realistic view of what they are aiming for,” she said. “We’ve got this tool kit – it means that law firms don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”