Women in law

Lawyers and law firms: a common scenario

All is exciting at first. A training contract at the firm of your choice, then a job - for life? It's just minor niggles - the usual long hours, jostling for good clients and work, but lots of socialising with colleagues at work and after. Perhaps a little bit of sexual banter but nothing worth losing your career over. It doesn't do to make a fuss about any of this when promotion is on the horizon.

Five years down the line and promise of partnership in the next 3 years for a rising star. The realisation of a dream? Then, marriage, pregnancy and maternity leave. Suddenly, you are no longer the dream candidate for partnership and the good work is tailing off - to prepare for your maternity leave, but why now when you have 5 months left? Is it your imagination or have the partnership prospects been left off the agenda?

Re-organisation during your maternity leave: you hear about this from a friend but your boss has not told you or consulted you. A lawyer who started at the same time but hasn’t taken maternity leave has been made a partner. Why not you? You ask for some flexibility in hours; you would like to leave at 6.30pm to fit with your childcare but will log on from home when the baby is in bed and perhaps you’d like a 4-day week for 6 months. After some negotiation there is reluctant agreement.

Time to return from leave. You have been moved to a different desk, there is no work, a less friendly atmosphere, a few jokes about the next baby and no talk of partnership. You cease to get work referred and partnership is not possible 'in these hard times'.

Unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy/maternity leave in relation to work allocation, pay, access to partnership, flexible working is unlawful discrimination.

Partners or members of an LLP may suffer similar treatment when:

  • Your management responsibilities are taken away before or after maternity absence and not given back to you;
  • The maternity locum has been given your responsibilities and work;
  • You are not allowed to work flexibly, ie shorter hours, partially from home;
  • Your team has been re-organised in your absence.

Discrimination law covers workers, which includes partners in a firm as well as employees.