Where have all the (Italian) women lawyers gone?

di Sharon Reilly, Studio Lablaw

Una Collega che esercita la professione in Italia come partner di uno Studio Membro di ASLA racconta la sua esperienza di partecipante donna alla Conferenza dell’International Bar Association quest’anno a Berlino

Italian women lawyers: Definitely noted by their absence last week in Berlin, at the IBA 7th World Women Lawyers' Conference (Law in a changing world - how women can contribute to innovation of the legal profession).  What a great conference, but what a poor turn out of female Italian lawyers!  There were just two of us: myself and Annalisa Reale, Chiomenti.

France managed to muster up seven of the fairer sex to send, idem Poland.  The UK and Germany outshone us all, at least in numbers, with seventeen and twenty-two delegates respectively.  Even Nigeria sent four delegates…

These conferences are often perceived as a 'jolly': out of the office for two days, do a little sightseeing, attend the odd session.  Not a bit of it.  This was a serious networking event and well worth the investment!

Attending this women's conference was a unique and empowering experience: the energy was palpable.  Women networking openly, without apology, but at the same time with their emotional intelligence on high alert: no thrusting of unwanted business cards (given on request, and only after a sufficient period of social engagement).

Swapping stories of how they managed to climb the corporate ladder and break the glass ceiling, those female lawyers were inspiring and powerful, and yet modest and unassuming in the telling.  As I mingled and networked, I thought of Madeleine Albright's (former US Secretary of State) trademark phrase: "There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other," and thought: Well, this group will be going to heaven!

The conference covered a variety of topical issues facing the global legal profession today: from the megatrends, industry 4.0, the future of M&A and innovative litigation, to the effects of IT and outsourcing on law firms, fee structures and law firm management.

The sessions were overlaid with, but not exclusively dedicated to, 'women's' issues, such as quotas, homeworking, juggling a family and a career, and how to make partner.  Assertiveness versus aggressiveness was a recurring issue: A man is described as the former (positive trait), while a women is labeled as the latter (negative trait).  How to overcome this bias?

Conscious and sub-conscious bias was one of the topics addressed by the keynote speaker, Hilarie Bass, Co-President of Greenberg Traurig, Miami, Florida.  She invited the audience to take the Harvard University online bias test: You will be amazed and perturbed at the results, she assured us!

Her other thought-provoking line was: Will law firms go the way of Kodak and the Encyclopedia Britannica, and what can we do to prevent that?

Roselyn Sands, Labour and Employment Law Leader at Ernst & Young, Paris, was quick to ask when we will start to see the emergence of 'Uber' lawyers, and that the need for work life balance is not just limited to working mums, but also to dads and to all those who wish to have the time to pursue interests outside work. 

Catherine Dixon, Chief Executive of the Law Society of England and Wales, shared some interesting statistics and insights into the legal profession in the UK.  Did you know that 68% of investors prefer pitches by males (preferably good-looking) rather than females, that 4/5 of partners are male, and even if you get that coveted partnership, the pay gap between men & women equity partners is 20%?

The good news is that M&A deals in 2015 hit a record high in the Healthcare, Technology & Energy sectors, and Due Diligence is not seen as a commodity, but key to the success of any deal.  The future will see lawyers deal sourcing for the client, thus moving away from the traditional role of legal advisor, towards the business of lawyering.

So, to sum up, the takeaways from this conference were:

  • As all practice areas become disrupted by technology, niche firms will fare better than the others in the future, by offering high-end specialist services, while routine work is commoditized;
  • Cross-border work is on the increase, and having 'good friends' across multiple jurisdictions is paramount;
  • Make yourself indispensable to your client: know their business and become their valued business partner;
  • Demystify the law: offer practical, commercial solutions;
  • Embrace change in your practice, use technology to enhance services to clients;
  • Clients are always looking for more for less: disruptive change will see some firms disappear;
  • Fee transparency and billing efficiency are strongly called for.

On a personal note, it has been my good fortune to have worked with two of the top (male) employment law specialists in Italy over the past ten years: Franco Toffoletto and Luca Failla.  And I can say without reserve that my experience as a female foreign lawyer in Italy has always been a very positive and satisfying one, devoid of bias and full of encouragement.

Dispelling the myth or an exception to the rule?  Either way, a good example that I often quote to my UK female counterparts!


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Venerdì 12 Aprile 2024

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