DENTONS, the world’s largest law firm, recognises that there are still barriers to contend with for women working at the Commercial Bar in Scotland – and as a firm, they are fully committed to working to drive the positive changes needed to improve diversity and inclusion in the sector.
That’s why Dentons set out to launch a meaningful conversation around the issues facing female advocates in the commercial sector by organising a relaxed and informal discussion event.
Over a delicious afternoon tea at Dentons’ Edinburgh office in Quartermile, female members of the Scottish Commercial Bar were invited to share their experiences and discuss ideas for improving the situation for female commercial law counsel in Scotland.
Facilitated by Associate Lisa McCreath, Counsel Craig Kennedy and Scotland Partner Douglas Blyth the event was very warmly received by attendees and will form the basis of future similar discussions not just around gender, but diversity more generally within the profession.
One of the main topics that came up was parental leave and caring responsibilities and the disproportionate impact/burden on women. This seems to be particularly tough in their branch of the profession, given self-employment conditions, and it has led to many practical issues for them such as organising court dates in line with other commitments.
Dentons’ championing of female advocates in commercial law echoes the precedent their legacy firm, Maclay Murray & Spens, set more than a century ago when they appointed Madge Easton Anderson as Scotland’s first female law agent in 1920 after the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which allowed women to enter the legal profession for the first time.
Dentons’ Scotland partner Douglas Blyth said:
“Much progress has undoubtedly been made in terms of pushing the legal profession forward to better reflect the population it serves, but the uncomfortable truth is that there’s still a way to go. It is impossible for me to say what steps we should be taking because, well, I have never been in these women’s position. What better way to explore how we break direct or indirect bias than bringing together women at the Commercial Bar, explore the challenges they face and how things might be changed for the better? We don’t want to just talk about diversity, it’s at the heart of what we do.”
Lisa McCreath, Dentons Associate, said: “As the Bar becomes increasingly diverse it seems almost counter-intuitive that we are still (regularly) receiving all-male lists for alternative Counsel. That’s caused us to reflect on things.”
“It’s important to acknowledge how far the Bar has come in the last 100 years; but as more women are being called to the Commercial Bar we need to acknowledge that this means more and more women are balancing their busy practice with ‘traditional’ parental and caring responsibilities. That’s not easy. In the wake of Covid-19, as a Firm, we need to be taking pro-active steps to ensure we are taking advantage of the wealth of talent at the Bar, instructing the right people and ensuring our experience is not limited to all-male lists.”
“In order to break the bias, truly, there needs to be an active discussion and it was a pleasure to lead that discussion with my team and members of the Commercial Bar. For many of the women, this was their first in-person networking since the start of the pandemic. It was really relaxed and I hope everyone enjoyed it. We’re really looking forward to building on this in the weeks and months ahead.”