Male clients biased against female lawyers, research finds

Women lawyers: victims of gender bias

Male clients were half as likely as their female counterparts to nominate women for a place in a global guide to star lawyers, despite the fact they rated the performance by women lawyers as equal or better.

The company behind the findings said male bias made it harder for women lawyers to progress.

Some 4,300 law firm clients chose over 8,000 individual lawyers in research for the Acritas Sharplegal guide; it “stumbled” across the finding that only 15% of those nominated by men were women, compared to 29% nominated by women.

Yet while expertise was the quality valued most highly – in which both genders performed equally – women were found to possess on average a greater number of desirable qualities mentioned in their nominations.

Further, women were “significantly” more likely to be considered “approachable, professional and diligent”.

Acritas reported that since 2015, just over 1,000 of the 8,000 nominations made by law firm clients have been for female lawyers. Just 13 women globally have received nominations from three or more clients.

The company’s chief executive, Lisa Hart Shepherd, said male bias among clients made it harder for women lawyers to progress: “The effect of this bias is multiplied when you consider four out of five senior in-house counsel are male, it is therefore easy to see why female partners find it hard to get equity partnerships in law firms.”

Acritas has pledged to campaign to persuade senior in-house counsel to help improve gender diversity, including lobbying for quotas of at least one in three female-led instructions.

Separately, a survey of in-house counsel at large corporations showed they expressed a preference for both the innovation and attentiveness of client service provided by smaller law firms. But it also found they tended to stick with large firms with which they had existing relationships.

The survey, conducted by Globality, which specialises in matching large companies with smaller service providers, said it polled 300 general counsel at international businesses generating revenues of over $1bn (£723m).

Ben Woolf, Europe general counsel at Tate & Lyle, which has a turnover of £4bn, said: “If you go to a smaller firm, even with a fairly small legal spend, we can be an important customer to them.

“You do get a bit of specialist treatment as a result of that and perhaps they concentrate on you a bit harder than a bigger firm would do.”

    Readers Comments

  • Louise Barrington says:

    This is not surprising. ArbitralWomen has been working on this for years. Arbitration institutions trying to raise the percentage of women named as arbitrators find that when the clients (or their counsel) nominate, it is usually a male. There are exceptions, to whom we say Bravo and Thank you!

  • Ray Barry says:

    There is an important gap in the data presented in this article. Were male clients also half as likely as female clients to nominate men as star lawyers? If so, all this data would show is that male clients are more cautious than female clients across-the-board about which lawyers they recommend for advancement.

Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Understanding vicarious trauma in the legal workplace

Vicarious trauma can happen to anyone who works with clients who have experienced trauma such as domestic or other violence, child abuse, sexual assault, torture or being a refugee.

Does your integrity extend far enough?

Simply telling a client they need to seek financial advice or offering them the business cards of three financial planners you know is NOT a referral.

Enhancing wellbeing: Strategies for a balanced work-life

Finding a balance between work and personal life has been a long-standing challenge for many professionals, particularly within high-pressure environments like the legal industry.

Loading animation