09 Oct 2012

Female lawyers hit French glass ceiling

Women are joining the French legal profession in stronger numbers than men, but far fewer hold managing and partnership positions, according to a recent study from the Paris Bar Association.

Since at least 2005, the number of women entering the profession is 85 per cent higher than that of their male counterparts, but the proportion of female partners varies drastically between practices.

Glass ceiling

According to a report of the research findings in The Lawyer newspaper, among the largest independent French firms, the percentage of female partners ranges from just less than 30 per cent down to a mere 8.7 per cent. The statistics highlight a ‘glass ceiling’ trend found in almost every other area of French industry and with findings across the global law firm sector.
However, the report goes on to say that many point to the recent election of Christiane Féral-Schuhl as chairwoman of the Paris Bar as a barrier-breaking moment for women in the country’s legal profession. As the second female bâtonnier in history, Ms Féral-Schuhl has spearheaded the organisation’s efforts to highlight gender diversity and points to retention as one of the primary detriments to women reaching the upper levels of French law firms.

Boys’ club
Corporate culture has also been cited as a culprit in the gender gap, with Mark Richardson, a partner at Paris-based law firm Franklin, maintaining that the law in France remains staunchly a boys’ club. ‘That’s changing, but for the moment it makes things difficult for a female lawyer wanting to develop a practice,’ he says. ‘It’s a generational thing. I get the feeling it’s slower in France than in other places.’