Keep calm and carry on!
By Kristine M. Madsen, chair of the Norwegian Bar Association's Standing Committee for promoting Female Lawyers. October 2014.
The need for initiatives for promoting women in the legal profession is not yet superfluous, not even in the Nordic region, so keep calm and carry on!
Norway is one of the best countries in the world to live in when it comes to equal opportunities for women, however, in the legal profession, there is still a bit of a lag when it comes to partnership-opportunities.
According to the last survey of the Norwegian Bar Association, by 2013, 37 % of Norwegian lawyers are female, up from 34.3 % in 2011. On the partner level, 14.8 % are women, down from 17.1 %. What hit the female partners?
The answer is complex. One must take into consideration various factors, such as the fact that the market has increased with a price adjusted 5 % from the last survey, at the same time as the production has declined over the last few years, hitting a so called "New Normal" level of production of 37.3 billable hours per week, down from 42 hours in 2010.
Also, there has been increased competition and consolidation in the profession, resulting in a more significant distance between the first tier firms and the second tier firms.
There has also been an increase of the female percentage within sole proprietorships from 18.7 % in 2011 to 19.9 % in 2013.
As several international studies show, women loose position to men when the employment market toughens. The need for female initiatives is therefor as relevant as ever, and we cannot rest on acquired results over the years.
In Norway, the Norwegian Bar Association established a standing committee in the early 1990'ies for female initiatives called the Female committee, with mandate to promote insight and knowledge in the particular challenges of female lawyers, and to work for increasing the number of female attorneys.
The Female committee had researcher Selma Therese Lyng of the Norwegian Work Research Institute conduct a thorough survey of the female lawyer's challenges in 2004, with the telling title "Up or out", which showed that promotion of female partners often stranded before the ladder was climbed due to several interrelated circumstances whereof the internal decline of motivation related to having children, seemed to form a negative spiral effect. Lyng found that the women's periodically decreased availability as a result of pregnancy and maternity leave, made the female lawyers loose ground to their colleagues, both in terms of participation in meriting assignments, and in terms of client contact. This in turn, leads to self deprecating and demotivating thoughts, and is leading to the women leaving the profession.
As a counter-measure, the Female committee invited the largest law firms in Norway to develop a set of best practice principles for developing female talent, including a list of actions, for firms that would like to focus on developing female talent. The list of actions focuses on the fact that the needs for attention and development varies according to life phases, and includes tools for skill development, work-life balance and parent track.
The committee also instigated a Talent Price that is awarded annually by the Norwegian Bar Association.
Early next year, the committee will also introduce a mentor-program, where experienced lawyers of both sexes are mentors to female mentees over a period of one year. We are delighted to note that so far the committee has received almost as many mentor-applications as mentee-applications.
As Madeleine Albright put it to the WNBA's All-Decade Team a few years back: “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."