Women in Law – insights at Shearman & Sterling LLP

City GDL students Rosanna Drinkhouse, Dionne Boahene & Margot Sacré (L-R)

Women (& a few men) gathered in the lobby of Shearman & Sterling LLP, ranging from eager undergraduates to keen postgraduates. Ladies gathered from across the UK, many from London universities, but some traveling from as far as Durham University. This annual Women in Law event was not expressly a recruitment event, rather it was described as a tangible expression of the value Shearman & Sterling places on equality in the work place, gender being just one dimension, as the firm also supports efforts focused on race and LGBTQ+ identities. Nicholas Buckworth, the London office’s Managing Partner, explained that the focus of the event was about what it means to be a lawyer, with Shearman & Sterling seeking to both give back to the profession and to give students an applied understanding of what firm’s work is like, explaining that it is tough, but rewarding.

Panellists spanned the age spectrum, ranging from a first-year trainee fresh from university to an experienced partner. Sharing a bold blend of the personal and the professional, the Sherman & Sterling women offered the audience pragmatic guidance encapsulating pressing issues like the intricacies of negotiating a post-maternity leave employment contract, to the range of experiences they have had with gender on the job, some had been the only woman working on a deal, but others had been pleasantly surprised by the number of women they worked with both as opposing councils and as clients. Noting that increasing numbers of clients are female and from varied backgrounds, there is a rising industry expectation to present a diverse team for a deal. Like many city firms, Shearman & Sterling have a robust global presence, with approximately 850 lawyers in 20 offices around the world. The firm has a consistent presence in the Middle East, specifically in the oil and gas sector, which is traditionally associated with men. Panellists detailed that though both the sector and location are considered to be male-dominated, they held their own, and grew from the experience.

Family/work life balance?

Various members of the team discussed what it was like to balance family life with a time-intensive career in commercial law. Attendees were encouraged to chose supportive partners who inherently see the value in their work and are also committed to achieving a healthy balance at home.

Noting that technology has made working from home an increasingly viable option, panellists who have families, cited it as a positive.

Conquering both the micro and macro aspects of women working in the law profession, panellists spoke of the difficulties of the lack of female legal mentors, the statistical lack of women in mid-tier management and above, and mechanisms the industry has been working to counteract these., Shearman & Sterling are actively and structurally supporting women in the workplace through an internal program called W.I.S.E.R. (Women’s Initiative for Success, Excellence and Retention). This coordinated effort focuses on attracting and retaining women, stressing the importance of having a robust female network. WISER promotes critical thought through regular events, such as monthly meets and the “Spotlight on Partners” series. Shearman & Sterling is above the sector standard for the ratio of female to male trainees. Though this event specifically targeted and focused on questions about female gender in the workplace, an encouraging number of male trainees, associates, and partners from Shearman & Sterling attended the event, and talked to attendees afterwards.

Rosanna Drinkhouse is a dual-nationality student on the City GDL, who recently graduated Cum Laude from Gordon College (Massachusetts, USA) with degrees in Political Science and English. Whilst studying at City, Rosanna volunteers as a Vocalise mentor, contributes regularly to Lawbore, and devotes time to legal work experience. When she’s not in the City library, Rosanna is probably listening to a podcast, studying in the British Library, reading The Economist, or researching where to find the best coffee.

Many thanks to Rosanna for this excellent review of ‘Women in Law’. More from Rosanna soon!

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