2224 Gender/Women in the Legal Profession II

WG Comparative Studies of Legal Professions

Room: B2.02


The focus of the session is on timely gender issues in legal practice and the notariat: differences in attractiveness of legal occupations for women and men, coping strategies for young lawyers under professional pressure, wellbeing as an uprising subject in management strategies, now also applied to the legal profession, and cultural capital as a key factor for success in the profession  (Sessions organized by Ulrike Schultz).


Chair: Ulrike Schultz | FernUniversität in Hagen

Isabel Boni-Le Goff | University of Lausanne

Eléonore Lépinard | University of Lausanne

Grégoire Mallard | Graduate Institute Geneva, IHEID

Finding meaning in lawyering? Gendered alienation and coping strategies in France and Switzerland




For the last two decades, the legal profession has witnessed important socio economic and demographic transformations. The fragmentation and overspecialization of the profession, in part due to the rise of mega law firms, on the one hand, and the intensification of competition between lawyers and between firms on the other hand, contribute to a loss of meaning deeply felt, notably but not exclusively by early career stage lawyers.  How do male and female lawyers respond to this perceived lack of interest, meaning and utility of their work? What strategies do they elaborate in order to cope with the perceived purposelessness of their work?
This paper aims to answer these questions thanks to a qualitative analysis of 41 life course narratives of French and Swiss female and male lawyers. This rich data provides access to the relationship that lawyers develop to their work, and their perception of how the structural changes in their profession impact the content of their work and its meaning. First, we summarize our conceptual framework, developed to account for the objective and subjective workplace experience of contemporary young lawyers, based on four dimensions of alienation in the legal work: powerlessness, purposelessness, time deprivation and unfairness. Secondly, we focus on the lack of social utility perceived by young lawyers (that we term “purposelessness”), especially those working in highly specialized and rationalized business law firms. We identify two coping strategies developed by young lawyers to solve the contradictions between the purposelessness of their work experience and the ideal of justice they pursue. These strategies are clearly gendered : a first strategy, adopted mostly by female lawyers, is to focus on the defense of poor or vulnerable clients (that we define as “care lawyering”). A second strategy, adopted mainly by male lawyers, is to invest more time and energy in extra-professional activities, such as Bar committees and other representive functions.

Peter Robson | University of Strathclyde

Women in the Scottish Legal Profession in the 21st century



Hilary Sommerlad | University of Leeds

Pete Sanderson | University of Huddersfield

Valorising cultural capital: understanding occupational stratification in the legal profession




Over the last three to four decades the legal profession in England and Wales has been transformed. Three developments are especially striking: the re-shaping of legal practices into capitalist enterprises; the large scale entry of women; and their incorporation not as future partners but as employees.  Derber saw these new salaried lawyers as proletarianised, and Hagan & Kay’s study concluded that women represented an under-class of semi-autonomous employees.
Since the turn of the century, women have been numerically dominant in legal training and the profession has embraced diversity initiatives to reconfigure it as a meritocratic occupation.  Arguably women lawyers’ success in specialisms like corporate law demonstrates the success of such initiatives.  Further, the explicit embrace of meritocracy has been reinforced by the capitalisation of firms which has taken place over the same period,  producing the bureaucratisation and rationalisation of labour processes.   However, these changes have also elongated firms internal structures, generating  complex professional strata many of which are closed and subordinate enclaves. The statistics show that women and other minorities are over represented in these sub professional enclaves. 
In contrast to voluntarist theories such as rational preference, this paper considers a transactional explanation of occupational differentiation which draws on Bourdieusian concepts of field, habitus and cultural capital. Using data generated by research studies of the English solicitors’ profession over the course of twenty years, it explores the process of valorisation of cultural capital and consequent differentiation and internalisation by women of ideas of subordinated status, as well as the naturalisation of pre-existing status categories.

Julie Paquin | University of Ottawa

The feminisation of notariat in Quebec: Accounting for the differential attractiveness of notarial law for female and male law students




During the last 30 years, the notarial profession in Quebec has faced important challenges, including increased competition from new entrants in the market for legal services (most notably the insurance and banking sector). Formerly considered important members of the Quebec francophone elite, Quebec notaries now experience lower levels of earnings than lawyers for higher levels of investment in professional training. According to recent surveys, a majority of notaries are now dissatisfied with their levels of remuneration. Concerns are also increasingly expressed about the « loss of prestige » of the profession in society.
Even as this crisis of notariat developed in the 1990s and 2000s, the profession has witnessed an important increase in the proportion of women among its members. From around 40% in the 1990s, the proportion of women among notaries increased to more than 60% in 2015. This process of feminization has been both more rapid and more intense than in any other professions in Quebec and Canada, and is expected to continue in the coming years, with the proportion of women currently reaching 75% among notaires with less than 20 years of practice, and more than 80% among students of notarial law.
The factors accounting for the gender imbalance existing in notarial law practice compared to other streams of the legal profession remains unexplored. Since the decision to become a notary or enter other streams of the legal profession is made by law students in the course of the law studies and before they enter the legal job market, it may be hypothesized to derive primarily from ‘supply-side’ factors – i.e. differences in preferences that make notarial practice more attractive to women than to men. In view of the difficult economic conditions that have prevailed for some time in the market for notarial services (it is easy to understand why men are not as attracted to notariat as they used to be, but much harder to figure out the reasons why, in the same context, women still opt for a career in notarial law.
A research project currently in progress aims at studying this issue, by examining the reasons accounting for the gender imbalance found among notarial law students. The presentation will provide an introduction to the project and a description of some preliminary results obtained from interviews with students.


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