Sarah Beckett

Consultant
sarah.b@dmjlegal.com
020 3058 8011

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Sarah started at DMJ as a researcher in the Private Practice team in September 2021, after achieving a first-class LLB law degree from Leeds University.

Sarah enjoys art (both creating it and viewing it), playing guitar and travelling.

Sarah decided to embark on a career in legal recruitment because it combines her interest in law with the ability to develop strong client relationships.

“We are thrilled that Sarah has joined our Private Practice team. Her positive attitude and legal background will serve her well and I’m excited to watch her career develop?.”

Marc Tobias – Managing Director, DMJ Recruitment

 

Working in recruitment for over a year now has given me insight into all sorts of nuances about the legal sector. Something that has struck me is the extreme disparity between men and women at the senior levels of commercial law firms. Whilst women make up 67% of law students and 62% of trainee solicitors, women make up only 20% of partners.

To me, this demonstrates ongoing social and economic discrimination against women within the legal practice, so I’m creating three articles to address why gender inequality remains at senior positions in commercial law firms through feminist perspectives. The aims are two-fold. Firstly, to examine why women are underrepresented at the senior levels of commercial law firms using the liberal and radical feminist lens. Secondly, to utilise the radical feminist lens to examine and propose effective reforms to reduce the gender disparity.

Liberal and Radical Feminist Lens

Liberal feminism focuses on formal gender equality, particularly economic and political equality. This lens seeks to legally challenge gender classifications, such as through the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Pay Act. Liberal feminism suggests that the reason for gender inequality is formal, legal inequality, which prevents women from being valued as individuals and equal to men within society. As women in the UK now have equality to men under the law, the liberal feminist lens suggests that women are now valued equally to men within society.

However, in practice, this isn’t the case. Legal equality has not translated to equal female representation within senior positions in law firms; in 2013, women made up only 20% of partners across the entire profession. This percentage falls as the prestige of the firm increases: 10% in the top 100 firms by turnover and 5% in the top 30. So, legal equality is not enough to guarantee gender equality, and that women are less likely to be selected for prestigious positions.

Radical feminist lens

With legal equality insufficient, it’s useful to adopt a radical feminist lens because it demonstrates how subtler, informal, gender inequalities have been able to persist. ‘Merit’ is most easily satisfied by men, according to the radical feminist lens, explaining why there are a limited number of women in senior positions. Within law firms, evidence suggests that men in law firms support each other across positions, by referring male applicants to other men for advice, whereas women are not afforded the same comradery.

Relation to law firms

While some academics argue that there are more men at senior levels because men desire power more than women do, others state that women do aim for the ‘highest-level jobs’, but are least likely to be hired, since women are ‘perceived as risky appointments by often male-dominated committees’. This highlights how meritocracy continues to benefit men, in line with the radical feminist lens. This is further supported by the 2019 Women in Leadership report, which explains that the reason for male dominance within law firms is negative attitudes towards women, which manifest in conscious and unconscious bias to favour promoting men to partner level. This convincingly establishes that women are not seen as equals to men within law firms, and simply are not ‘part of the club’, demonstrating why gender inequality is detrimental to women, preventing them from achieving senior positions in commercial law firms due to societal attitudes that favour men.

So, liberal feminism has achieved legal equality, which has undoubtedly reduced political and economic inequality against women. However, clear disparities remain in the senior positions of law firms, demonstrating that legal equality alone is insufficient. This is developed by radical feminism, which identifies that ‘merit’, which is commonly thought to be an equal basis for promotion, is valued over diversity, and was created by and for men. This demonstrates the remaining societal attitudes that favour men, and this social inequality prevents women from attaining the same economic opportunities. Furthermore, this also disadvantages society, since law firms wield great power, and must be diverse, to properly represent a diverse society and prevent contributing to male domination and female oppression.

In my next article, will apply the radical feminist framework to explain how policies and practices of commercial law firms continue to cause gender inequality in senior positions in said firms before using the radical feminist framework to argue for practical steps to increase gender equality in law firms in the final instalment. 

Posted 05/12/2022 By Sarah Beckett

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Sarah Beckett

Consultant

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