Do law firms need to do more to support women in their legal careers?

The rigid structure of traditional law firms means that successful lawyers often face a difficult choice between their career and their family or other interests. As a result, many female lawyers are pushed out before they can reach the top. But not at Setfords.

The vision of CEOs Guy and Chris Setford has always been to create an inclusive workplace where everyone is equal, regardless of their gender, age or background. The Setfords consultancy model allows lawyers uncapped earning potential and control over when and where they work. This way of working allows the flexibility and freedom that talented lawyers need to achieve their ambitions. Now, with women making up over 62% of our lawyers and 70% of our top billers, we are proud of everything that they have achieved.

This International Women’s Day, our Compliance Director Pearl Moses is talking about women in the legal sector and what we can all do to lead the change towards inclusivity.

When did you join Setfords and what is your role?

I joined Setfords as Director of Compliance in October 2021. It’s been a whirlwind time in a great way. I wasn’t unhappy in my previous role, so I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t think it would be fun, and Setfords hasn’t disappointed!

Do you feel that bias against women is a big issue in the legal sector?

My experience in the legal sector has been very broad and yes, I do think it is an issue. The perception of a ‘good lawyer’ in traditional law firms is of a white male who goes on to become partner. Because of this perception, a promising young, caucasian man is seen as a potential future partner before he even walks through the door- because this is what the other people at the firm look like.

Then, because the in-house sector is able to offer greater flexibility, the perception of a lawyer can be slightly different here – a caucasian woman. There are far more women practising at senior levels in-house than in traditional firms, due to the greater flexibility for childcare and other commitments. For bias to be eradicated, traditional firms should be offering greater flexibility too.

It’s clear that bias is present, as it’s not that women don’t want to work in firms. But in many firms, there isn’t just a glass ceiling, there’s a concrete door. This is why Setfords is different, as we actively welcome everyone to succeed.

What obstacles do women in face in the legal industry, and do you feel that they have the same opportunities as men?

At the start of their careers especially, I don’t think women have the same opportunities as men. As women aren’t perceived as ‘the lawyer,’ they immediately have to work harder to prove that they are good enough and can be successful. And, some initial opportunities may not be given to them, especially if there is fierce competition. Firms go with what they know, which is the Caucasian male.

And, typically female, softer traits are also traditionally seen as negative in the legal industry. But I don’t think that this should be the case. Everyone in law needs to start viewing emotional intelligence as the hugely valuable asset it is if we want to overcome bias.

How does the consultancy-model at Setfords help women to progress in their careers?

At Setfords, the majority of our lawyers work remotely. So, there are no preconceptions about what a ‘good lawyer’ looks like. And, we’re not more willing to take on a consultant because they look like everyone else, as our lawyers are from diverse backgrounds. We also offer an alternative for people, including women, that may face discrimination at more traditional law firms but also don’t want to set up their own. They can work for themselves, have the support of a firm, and be removed from the discriminatory practices of some more traditional firms.

70% of our top billers are women. This is largely down to the flexibility that Setfords offers, so our lawyers can fit their work around their lifestyles as standard. And, you don’t have to be a lawyer, we also have many very successful paralegals and legal executives, for example.

How does Setfords retain and nurture female talent?

In the legal sector and beyond, women are still held to a different standard compared to men. Because they’re often not perceived as the ‘traditional lawyer’, it can be harder to achieve as more effort has to go into it to prove themselves. Even after women have achieved, there’s the sense that the success was a fluke- and the need to keep showing over and over that it can be done again. Overlay the race element onto this and black and ethnic minority women have to work even harder.

Setfords is passionate about giving people opportunities to develop. As part of this, we are making sure that women are being perceived as people who can be successful lawyers and take on more, not just men. Over 60% of our lawyers are women. So, while we of course we aren’t perfect, we are working hard to break the bias against women in law. We never hold women to a higher standard than men, judge them for flexible working, or refuse them support based on their gender or race.

If you could give one piece of advice to encourage women to pursue success in the legal sector, what would it be?

Find your passion and pursue it. What do you really, really love to do? Become an expert at it. The most successful women in law that I know are all experts at what they do. Speaking personally, I didn’t set out to have a career in legal compliance, I kind of fell into it. Yet, after I did I discovered that I loved it and put my passion into really getting to know my stuff.

If you’re passionate about and really good at what you do, it only takes five minutes with someone for them to begin to set aside their initial impressions of you and start connecting with you as a person. And from connection everything is possible. From there, you can start to break the bias and prove how women can be successful in law.


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