Improving Diversity in the Legal Profession

15th March 2021

Posted In: The Topic

Over half of solicitors currently practising in Ireland are women, but just over one in three are at partner level.

Recently, the Law Society of Ireland sent out a call for renewed collective efforts to increase access to leadership roles for women in the legal sector.

The call comes as new figures show that over half (53%) of solicitors currently practising in Ireland are women, but just over 1 in 3 (35%) are at partner level.

Throughout March, the Law Society is marking a milestone of 118 women who have benefitted from its Women in Leadership initiative since 2016. The mentoring programme, which aims to empower and support women in advancing their legal careers to a senior level, is part of a growing range of Law Society actions to facilitate greater equality in leadership roles and improve diversity within the legal profession.

The Women in Leadership mentoring programme is a collaboration between the Law Society of Ireland and Law Society Finuas Skillnet.

Law Society of Ireland Council Member and Women in Leadership Mentor, Sonia McEntee, said,  “Let’s build on our meaningful progress to date – becoming the first solicitors’ profession in the world to have a female majority in 2014 was a pivotal marker in our journey towards lasting diversity. And at 53%, this encouraging majority continues today. At partner level however, women are in the minority at 35%, so we need to be mindful that some barriers to women accessing influential roles may still exist,” she said.

“The law has a monumental impact on our daily lives, directly and indirectly. It is widely recognised that when women are more involved in decision-making, not only does business flourish but society benefits greatly. It is vital that women have the opportunity to access leadership roles on the same basis as men. We must come together as a profession to do the work to remove these barriers.”

Empowering the next generation

“One of the best ways to progress equality is to use the lived experience of women across the profession to empower the next generation of legal leaders,” explained Ms McEntee. “Women in Leadership is the very definition of ‘women championing women’, and we are incredibly proud of its impact to date with 118 successful mentorship pairs since 2016. This programme is effective because it embraces core values of the profession – inclusion, access, respect. Mentors are often women in very senior roles from the public and private sectors helping women part-way up the career ladder to reach more senior positions, develop their own businesses further and raise their professional profiles.”

“Progress is being made, but there is some way to go,” she said. “The Law Society is committed to improving access to the profession, and representation of women and diverse groups. The format of the Women in Leadership programme has proven its effectiveness in meeting these challenges.”

One firm leading the way in promoting women in leadership is Matheson. Last month the Law Society of Ireland confirmed Matheson as Ireland’s largest law firm.  Matheson recently announced eight new partners, five of whom are women.  Michael Jackson, Managing Partner said:

As we announce our eight new partner appointments at the firm, I am also pleased that 41% of the partnership at Matheson is female, and that 50% of our partner appointments over the last 3 years have been female.

Sally Anne Stone

Last week, Sally Anne Stone, Partner at Matheson was announced as one of WMB’s Gender Diversity Ambassadors for 2021 and said, “I’m honoured to be a Gender Diversity Ambassador for Women Mean Business in 2021 and to play a part in WMB’s vision and drive to tackle gender diversity in the Irish workplace. 

“Our partner gender ratio is the seventh most gender-diverse in Europe, according to The Lawyer’s Euro 100 for 2020.  We also recently appointed a female Chairperson for the first time in our history.”

Tara Doyle

In January, Tara Doyle was the first woman to be appointed Chairperson at Matheson. Tara continues her day-to-day practice as Head of Matheson’s Asset Management and Investment Funds Department, alongside her new role. At the end of 2020, Tara was elected to the Council of the Law Society of Ireland.  The issues on which she campaigned included diversity and inclusion, wellbeing and the international competitiveness of the Irish legal profession.