IWD: Young women entering the profession – this is the most important thing you need to know

23 February 2018

In mid-November I read an article by Caitlin Moran in The Saturday Times magazine.  She is of course fabulous and pretty much right about everything but this really struck a chord. She wrote about why older women do not tell younger women the most important thing they need to know when setting out in life. This is not what child birth is really like (although I can tell you it is very painful) but rather she said:

nine times out of ten a woman’s life will only be as good as the man she marries … Of all the married women I know who have children, all the ones who are successful in their careers and are happy are, without exception, the ones who married, for the want of a better word, "good" men. Gentle, clever, kind, funny men, usually in cardigans, who just show up for everything. Ones who at a bare minimum cut it 50-50 with the housework, childcare and emotional upkeep.  Furthermore - and again, without exception - the women who have done the best in their careers and are happiest have the partners who do more than 50-50. The more their partners do - the more they engage in childcare and housework - the higher those women fly."

I said she was fabulous didn’t I?  She is absolutely right and it is especially so if you are planning on pursuing a successful career in the law and becoming a mother. Inspired by Caitlin, I write this for young women entering the profession (although men take heed as to what is required) and do so on the basis that your partner will be a man. Women married to women rarely have this problem. A friend of mine who had been married to a man but then began a relationship with a woman and eventually moved in with her once told me how wonderful it was to have someone at home ‘just like me’ so that she did not have to think of everything all the time and so that there was always milk in the fridge. 

I know that one size does not fit all and that finances and having grandparents on tap for childcare play a big part, but I write in the hope that you will think about this and have the conversations about expectations and practicalities that you need to before it is too late. 

Being a lawyer, whichever branch you chose, is such a big, important, all consuming job that to have a partner that does not fully support you in your career, thinks that their career is more important than yours or that you should sacrifice your career prospects as the woman when family comes along is going to make it all the more difficult. 

Being a lawyer is hard. Doing everything at home too simply will not work.  In any one week as a parent -  on top of; planning your cross examination/drafting a tricky lease/deciding tactics on a probate dispute/dealing with emotional or vulnerable clients you will also have to - think about what gift to get Henrietta/Henry for their birthday party this weekend and sort out fancy dress for the same - remember money for mufti day (and plan an outfit) - ensure you do not forget PE kit/library book/an apron for art club/violin/swimming gear and ingredients for HE (or whatever it is called these days) and on top of all that deal with the logistics of childcare. This is so convoluted and difficult that it could fill another two or three blogs easily.  If some chap expects you to do all this and the shopping, cooking and washing on top you will find it is not physically possible without you becoming exhausted, resentful or a client of your own firm’s family team.

His job is not more important than yours – you are a qualified solicitor, barrister or legal executive and that is really impressive.  You have studied hard and are very successful.  Even if he too is a lawyer or one of many other extremely well thought of professions his career is not more important than yours just because he is a man or because he earns more than you.  If he earns so well, he can pay more towards the cost of childcare!

When those of you joining the profession now start families, let us hope that this will be far less of an issue.  It has to be.  You will be in debt from studying in a way that I and those lawyers in their mid thirties having babies now are not.  Ask yourself, if it is worth getting into all that debt if you are not going to fulfil your potential professionally whilst your partner does? 

Even if you work in the most family friendly firm possible (and I understand that most are not) you will not be able to progress if you only work 9.30 to 5.30.  That is not the nature of our work.  You will frequently need to work into the night (granted you can do this from home) but there are countless marketing and training events to attend in the evenings that are essential for making the contacts you will need during your career.  Again, there is a blog to be written about how law firms need to change the way in which they work to assist those with caring responsibilities but let’s face it – it ain’t happening yet and isn’t likely to any time soon.

I am not trying to put you off becoming a lawyer, to the contrary I am encouraging you to be a tremendously successful one but in order to do this you need to know that you will need to share all domestic responsibilities 50/50.  Or as Caitlin Moran says "get him to do more!" . There are definitely men out there who will do this for you (cardigan optional) – plenty of them being confident, happy, supportive men who value your career and are proud of your successes.  Make sure that you find one. You deserve it. It will ensure you are as successful as you should be and that you are both wonderful role models for your children. 

And a final tip,  please read ‘Why Mummy Drinks’ by Gill Simms, as recommended to me by my life coach. This is hilarious and her reference to having ‘eleventy billion’ things to achieve in one day is spot on if you are a lawyer and a mother. Hopefully the book will act as a very effective contraceptive for anyone thinking of having a family with someone who has no intention of pulling their weight.


IWD is an opportunity to build on the progress that has been made towards gender parity and to celebrate the achievements of women on a global scale. This year, #PressforProgress.

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