Female lawyer attrition in European law firms: 5 things your firm can do today

Blog post - 7 May 2021

The lack of female representation at the leadership level is something every European law firm should be striving to fix. Women are graduating from law schools at the same rate as men. They have been for years. So, today, law firm leaders have the opportunity to start making meaningful changes for a better tomorrow.

Here are 5 things European law firms can do to start reducing female lawyer attrition:

1. Eliminate the Pay Gap.
“In the EU, women earn 14.1 percent less than men across the bloc, even though they have the right to equal pay since 1957. The gender pension gap is at 30 percent.” - EU Observer

Iceland has already introduced laws aimed at closing the pay gap. The European Union looks set to follow in its footsteps. Since equal pay is on the horizon, law firms have no excuse for continuing to pay female lawyers less than their male counterparts.

2. Allowing Flexible Scheduling.
Female lawyers, whether they’re mothers or not, likely carry more of the burden of running a household. Achieving true work-life balance is essential for law firms trying to retain female talent. Creating a flexible scheduling policy that allows lawyers to work reduced hours or have smaller billable targets is a key first step.

Firms should also consider adopting long-term (optional) remote work policies that continue after the pandemic. You should consider how technologies can help your law firm stay profitable and productive into the future when planning for a future that includes optional remote work.

3. Prioritise Workload Management.
Stressful workloads can lead to burnout and reduced work-life balance. Law firms should begin to measure lawyer workloads and distribute work based on data, instead of preference. This starts with good time tracking hygiene, since law firms can’t properly assess workload when time isn’t accurately recorded.

An added advantage is that, by accurately measuring how lawyers are spending their time, law firms are in a better position to assess the value of disruptive legal technologies – like contract automation or customer management software. It’s a win-win.

4. Embed Promotion Standards Based on Client-Centric Metrics.
The mushrooming popularity of boutique, virtual, and unbundled legal services highlights the appetite legal clients have for change. Since the law remains a buyers' market, it’s time for law firms to adapt to the demand for client-centric legal services. An important part of this is that law firms should prioritise client-centric metrics when determining promotion standards.

Promoting lawyers based on their ability to retain and satisfy clients encourages creativity, efficiency, innovation, and negotiation. This allows female lawyers to compete with their male colleagues who may have the ability to stay longer at work each day. You can assess lawyers for these skills by using client satisfaction surveys, as well as metrics like client referrals, lifetime value of clients, and average matter cost.

5. Use Alternative Fee Arrangements
Similarly, alternative fee arrangements allow law firms to work on the basis of value, instead of billable hours. These alternative fee structures promote innovation and creativity, while encouraging client satisfaction. They also remove pressure placed on lawyers to sit in the office for long hours each day billing clients – which can level the playing field for female lawyers, while also improving work-life balance.