Expanding the Pathways to Gender Equality in the Legal Profession
Legal Ethics, Volume 17, Part 2, September 2014
20 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2014
Date Written: September 7, 2014
The problem of gender equality among lawyers has been a subject of significant research, study and action across the globe. It is well known that despite women's entrance into law school in relatively equal numbers to men over the past few decades, they remain significantly under-represented in positions of leadership and power across sectors of the legal profession. Progress has come to a standstill, making this a particularly critical time to examine the ways we conceptualise the problem and rethink the solutions. The legal profession, as a gatekeeper of equality and as an institution committed to the preservation of rights, should be emblematic of gender equality. Responsibility for addressing the problematic gender dynamics is something that lies with the entire profession and should be framed as a matter of ethics. To date, the conversation on this issue has been relatively insular and this essay argues for an expansion of this conversation to include the entire bar. Toward this end, this essay suggests that there are new ways to think about pathways to gender equality by expanding the boundaries that have defined the problem. First, it has been defined in a way that focuses almost exclusively on those already engaged in the practice of law, often at the highest echelons of (private) practice to the exclusion of other sectors, especially legal education. Second, the existing movement has almost unilaterally focused on the structural impediments within the legal system or the characteristics of law practice itself that exist as roadblocks to women, ignoring significant barriers that are not necessarily unique to women lawyers but impede the progress of women generally. The movement also often fails to extend beyond geographic borders of a particular country, thereby eliminating the potential for a global conversation. In crafting solutions, there has been little acknowledgement of the role of legal education.
Keywords: women, equality, legal profession
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