Europe’s young lawyers hold special session on gender equality at landmark Istanbul meeting

The European Young Bar Association’s Spring Meeting met in Turkey for the first time in its history

Filiz Saraç, the first female president of the Istanbul Bar Association, welcomes delegates to Istanbul Courtesy of the EYBA

Senior leaders in law discussed the progress made and the challenges that remain in achieving gender equality in the legal profession in an all-female speaker session chaired by Sevim Hazal Görmüş, president of the Istanbul Bar Association Young Lawyers Centre, at the European Young Bar Association’s (EYBA’s) meeting in Istanbul on Friday (8 March). 

Following introductions by Görmüş – an associate at Gide associate firm Özdirekcan Dündar Şenocak – and Ukrainian lawyer Sergiy Barbashyn, the morning session focused on diversity. 

Barbashyn acknowledged International Women’s Day, commending its significance and reaffirming the EYBA’s dedication to promoting gender equality within the legal profession and beyond.

Görmüş stressed the significance of diversity and inclusion, after which spoke Polish lawyer Izabela Konopacka, the Federation of European Bars (FBE) president, acknowledging many of the European legal profession’s historical milestones in addressing gender diversity and emphasising the need to confront unconscious bias.

Konopacka congratulated Filiz Saraç, the first female president of the Istanbul Bar Association, who had earlier welcomed delegates to Istanbul, noting that while “we live in a historic moment for women’s rights, we still have a lot of work to do to achieve real equality”.

She added that, in her country Poland, “we have never had a woman president of the national bar”.

While supporting EU laws on pay transparency and gender equality, Konopacka said such legislation was not enough to remove the obstacles women face: “We need to confront the unconscious bias that exists in our society… it is not just about changing laws, but also changing attitudes.”

Citing the words of the late US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she reminded her female audience present to “have the courage to dissent without resentment”.

Konopacka outlined ongoing work in examining FBE’s gender equality incentives and the meetings she and colleagues were having with different bar associations in Europe and worldwide to propose amendments to FBE statutes at the next FBE Congress to be held in Malaga in June 2024. 

Speaking personally, she said she could understand the benefit of quotas in ensuring 50/50 representation at senior levels, noting that she was only the fourth female FBE president in 30 years, the first being Professor Sara Chandler, a judge at the Women and Diversity in Law Awards, which take place in London this Wednesday (13 March).

Veronika Denninger, a German Federal Bar Association director responsible for Eastern European relations, spoke next and addressed German sensibilities on the subject. She discussed the challenges and opportunities female lawyers face in Germany, where only 35% of leadership positions are held by women. Progress, however, had been made in Germany with the election of more female regional board presidents of the Federal Bar, particularly in large city bar associations like Munich, Berlin and Cologne. 

At the Federal Bar Association’s last annual meeting, women had up to 40% of the voting rights, leading to the appointment of two female vice presidents of the Association, which she said made her “very happy”. 

While more reserved about quotas within the legal profession, Denninger noted the need for male allyship in supporting women to achieve higher levels of participation in the profession and an increase in female leadership of larger German law firms. The German judiciary, which is a separate profession, was, happily, much closer to obtaining parity in gender equality, she said.

Later sessions covered subjects such as AI in the legal industry, the application of legal technology, cyber-security, cross-border data transfers and the role of young lawyers in bar associations. 

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