Supporting female talent in international law firms – a personal experience

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By: Florence Forster, Managing Associate, Linklaters Luxembourg

 

 

According to both internal and external research (e.g. the PWC Law Firm Survey 2018), more than 55 % of the lawyers recruited by international law firms are female, but more than 80% of the partners are male. In some countries, like Germany, the ratio is even more striking with only 1 in 10 partners a female.

 

In light of these figures, law firms have initiated specific programmes to support women in their career aspirations. One of these is the Women’s Leadership Programme at Linklaters, in which I am currently enrolled.

 

I am a Managing Associate in the Corporate Department at Linklaters Luxembourg, successfully advising Private Equity clients. I have always been interested in international and cross-border business relations and – after studying in Germany, France and the US – have been admitted to the bar in Paris, New York and Luxembourg. Like most of my fellow female associates (87%), I kept working full time after welcoming my kids in 2013 and 2019, juggling the joys and challenges of parenthood with those of my career.

 

And it was when I came back from my second maternity leave that I felt ready for the next step in my career. But what I didn’t know was: how was I to approach this best?

It is telling that I still vividly remember my male fellow law students at the time of our graduation announcing their goal of becoming a partner in a major law firm – at a time when for me, being hired as an associate in an international law firm was all I aspired to.

 

Let me introduce you to the programme!

And now, here I am – part of the Women’s Leadership Programme, which was introduced in 2012 to develop and retain talented female managing associates and ultimately grow the population of female partners.

The programme includes:

– a series of trainings on key topics such as obtaining feedback, strategic networking, external perspective and image management,

– coaching by an external coach,

– monthly calls with a dedicated “development” partner,

– networking within the cohort.

A strict application process must be passed and every year approximately 30 female lawyers out of approximately 300 female managing associates working in different Linklaters offices in Europe, the US and Asia are accepted. The programme runs for a 9-month period, beginning in June. Participants are gathered in coaching groups of 5 lawyers to share their knowledge and develop career plans. A unique feature of the programme is the “development” partner – these are volunteers who, although they do not know the lawyer they’re matched with, understand the workings of the firm and are able to give advice, support and guidance during their relationship.

 

How do I experience the programme?

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the 2020/2021 programme has been organised fully virtually. Webinars on topics such as “Seeking Feedback”, “Networking”, “Image Management” and “Business Development” have been particularly helpful.

I attend monthly coaching sessions with an external coach together with four other managing associates working in the London, New York and Lisbon offices. They helped me realise that my female peers were facing similar challenges and situations. It is extremely helpful to brainstorm, exchange ideas and support each other in these sessions.

The discussions with my development partner have proven extremely valuable. He answers all my questions sincerely and provides me with very transparent views of the career paths at the firm. The development partner working in a different office and a different practice helps to talk openly. My development partner regularly challenges me with questions, putting me in a position to make decisions and – more importantly – vocalize them. Moreover, he advises me how partners see and value things, what are the “Dos” and “Don’ts”.

From my perspective, this relationship is the most valuable part of the programme, giving me confidence in proceeding with my career aspirations, going step by step and taking things in my own hands.

 

Key take-aways:

Take time to think about your career: look for your unique selling point, what kind of career you want and how you want clients and colleagues to perceive you.

Set objectives and vocalize them: set objectives and vocalize your ambitions.

Talk to the partners: talk to partners frequently and openly. Discuss your career aspirations, assess your opportunities and monitor your progress. Don’t be shy.

Seek feedback: actively seek for feedback. Ask for it regularly and ask for specific feedback. It is extremely valuable and gives you new energy and perspective. It pushes you to continuously improve but also helps seeing successes. It will make you stronger to develop your own brand.  

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