Gender equality

"Law was often looked at as a marriage degree - three years in law, then you get married," recalls AZB founding partner Zia Mody about women's views of a legal career 30 years ago. Since then law firms have gradually fought the profession's gender bias, arguably more successfully in India than abroad. But there is still a long way to go.

An un-Indian problem
Retaining female lawyers all the way to partnership has been a headache for almost all international law firms and is a perennial debate.

The percentages of female partners at UK corporate firms stubbornly hover between 10 and 20 per cent and Clifford Chance managing partner David Childs recently expressed concern that this was "not good enough". And last week Allen & Overy (A&O) radically broke (or fixed) its existing partnership lockstep to improve female partner retention by integrating flexible working.

Apart from Amarchand Mangaldas Delhi opening up a crèche for working mothers late last year, however, female career progression appears to be rarely talked about within India's law firms.

Nevertheless, many women in Indian corporate law have arguably already achieved much greater visibility than their London City or New York Wall Street counterparts.

Women of history
Most of the first generation of today's top female corporate lawyers started their careers at the Bar. Indeed, there were few alternatives in the first decades after India's independence but many nevertheless soon beat a hasty retreat.

"Men in court don't understand women in skirts," says one female partner bluntly.

Even beyond overt sexism, however, the general lifestyle of the Bar and Bench is not conducive to the careers of women, many of whom are traditionally also expected to lead a family and household.

Days are usually spent in court and evenings can be filled with client meetings and case preparation. Taking time off means no income.

"We saw a number of women in court, but only a few were very serious," explains Amarchand Mangaldas Delhi partner Pallavi Shroff, adding that there are maybe only half a dozen senior counsels across the country who are female. On the High Court Bench, only 6 per cent of judges are women, which Law Minister Veerappa Moily wants to desperately address.

"Woman lawyers working in the courts, the number keeps receding but you don't see that in corporate law firms," notes Phoenix Legal co-founding partner Manjula Chawla, who started her career in the courts.

The rise of Indian corporate law firms may have improved women's legal career prospects but juggling the demands of transactional law and family is still far from easy.

"I remember when I started, [clients] just wanted to meet Mr. Shroff even if I was dealing with their case," says Pallavi Shroff, "but today clients are willing to give respect if you can command it."

And one female partner articulates the concerns of others in the Indian cultural context and laments: "As a woman it is difficult to network as well as a man would do, especially without sending the wrong signals."

Bearing the burden
However, bearing children, raising them and maternity leave are usually cited as the main reasons of why women and demanding legal careers do not go well together.

"What pains me most," recounts Amarchand Mumbai partner Vandana Shroff, "are women who are brilliant, but then suddenly 'here comes a baby' and off they go."

"For a woman lawyer it is important to get married to a lawyer," posits Manik Karanjawala who has been a litigating advocate since the heydays of Emergency. "I agree that you don't marry a profession and you marry a person, but it helps."

Trilegal's first female partner Charandeep Kaur agrees that motherhood makes things hard, remembering how she would take conference calls from home after putting her baby to sleep.

Pallavi Shroff adds: "I had occasions earlier in life where I had to leave a sick child at home because I had a matter in court to argue. I would prepare at night with my daughter in my lap running a temperature."

Family matters
"The main thing is really for the family to be supportive and that's where it cracks if that doesn't happen," notes Mody.

But if the in-laws, grandparents, extended family and domestic help do step in, it creates a resource that is culturally or financially all but unavailable in the West.

"In the US or the UK," jokes Luthra & Luthra capital markets partner Madhurima Mukherjee, "if a woman has to become a partner you pretty much have to not have a child or be divorced."

Another female partner says: "We have so much domestic help – we don’t need to take care of the house at all. Driver, cook, groceries, nanny - I have nothing to think about except providing intellectual attention and entertainment to my child."

LawQuest founder Poorvi Chothani adds that a double income in the family can also mean that many women are "rather entrepreneurial" in India. "It gives them the boost and they are able to stick their neck out further than they would otherwise."

Chothani runs a Mumbai immigration and employment boutique firm of two lawyers and four paralegals, all of whom are women. She says that she had intentionally made the choice to start a firm that allowed a work-life balance, although she is happy to admit that this has also come at the expense of profit.

London-based ALMT Legal co-founding partner Shalini Agarwal raises another family perspective and says that it can cut both ways: the close proximity and high expectations of an Indian family can in some cases be a burden in itself.

Another reason for India's apparently more level playing field is that family firms still loom large in India's legal landscape. And family firm often literally means that the entire family gets involved in the legal practice irrespective of gender, and the distinction between work and family becomes blurry – and easier to manage.

"Every successful woman lawyer in India comes from a family of lawyers, has a lineage," claims Lall Lahiri Salhotra co-founding partner Anuradha Salhotra. "The reason is not any other but the balancing of work and family – law is a very demanding field."

Ready or not
At least anecdotally it appears that at many firms, particularly those with female role models at the top, the ratio of men to women at the partnership level is higher than in the West, although by necessity senior and equity partners still make up a minority at the older firms.

Mody admits that in the very top tier there are still perhaps fewer women although she expects that in the next five years many junior female partners will rise up the ranks. "If they can survive the 28 to 36 year period, then the struggle is by and large over."

Vandana Shroff argues that even putting a career on hold for a year to have a baby should not be the end. "In the whole scheme of things, everyone has a professional life of at least 40 years," she says, although she agrees that in the dark of the night not every principal associate might see it that way.

But Mody's truism that "nothing succeeds like success" and Pallavi Shroff's recommendation that complete focus, grit and determination are the bare essentials in making it, both point to the same conclusion. Ultimately most successful female lawyers appear to have gotten there through ambition and hard work, despite the expectations and the environment.

"I have children and I am married but I have chosen to have a full time career," says Luthra & Luthra's Mukherjee. "I have to compete on a basis that makes me understand that I cannot use my children as an excuse."

Nevertheless, senior female lawyers are still more of an exception than a rule. And although menacing discrimination against women in the profession has decreased and the new generation of lawyers may improve matters it is yet unclear whether all Indian law firms are ready for them. Or perhaps they do not need to be and families will take care of things?

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Like +2 Object -1 Anonymous 26 Jan 10, 21:12
very good article.. specially for the budding female lawyers...
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Like +3 Object -1 Anonymous 27 Jan 10, 09:51
Good article, very relevant issue. Many bright women lawyers struggle to balance their family life and work life especially when kids come along. I hope that more and more women (and men) on top make it easier for younger women lawyers to survive in the profession by allowing sensible time as maternity leave and granting good maternity packages (irrespective of the minimum requirements stipulated under Indian law), and giving them the option of flexible working when children are young. Creches should be made available in most firms so that working women don't die of guilt while leaving their children at home. Once these facilities are set up most bright women will find the right balance - rather than having to make difficult personal / professional choices.
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Like +2 Object -1 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 01:39
Honestly, I can count the number of senior female partners in India on one hand. Corporate law is still very very male dominated and that is not going to change any time soon.
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Like +3 Object -2 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 04:16
Life can be made a hell lot easier by partners not sitting on their backside on matters and delegating as and when they get it. I for one am happy that my partner is a family man with two children; hence he has a work-life balance which ensures that I have one.

The secret to work life balance so far as corporate law is concerned is as follows:

1) Come in at 9:30 am and delegate matters to your associates.
2) Associates don’t yap around, put on your blinkers as one senior statesman told me and get down to work.
3) Lunch should not be more than 40 minutes.
4) When you are back in office from lunch, you start working. Your office friends are mere acquaintances – you will move a lot of firms but you will have very few friends. If you don’t socialize with a colleague after work, he isn’t your friend.
5) You leave for home at 6:30 pm.

Practice the above for 20 years and you are a rich man oops woman.

How things are messed up is as follows:

1) You are working for a partner who is not married and thinks that law is life (a myth - the best lawyers have families and kids, some of them have two) or is one who has an estranged marriage.
2) If your partner is single he should delegate matters when he gets it and should in all honesty let you know of the deadline.
3) He should give his comments to you at the earliest and not wait for hours on end. An associate is waiting for you to respond so that he/she can go back home and the least you can do as a mentor is to see that that your ‘shish’ finishes up his/her work properly and comes back with a smile the next morning.
4) If an associate is done with his work, let him go home. Sitting endlessly before a monitor pretending that heavens are going to fall if a person leaves early helps no one.

What sucks the most are people from outside Mumbai who take up PG or other accommodation in the suburbs and are wiling to work till late. They yap most of the time and don’t have responsibilities back home and think that they are productive (myth) if they put in more hours especially at night. Fact -research done in the US suggests that people who are working the dead shift (till 4 am) even after 2o years have a mental productivity that of a drunkard after 11:00 pm. Of course if you work in a firm which believes in the philosophy of warming chairs amounts to productivity then God help you.

My two cents.
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Like +4 Object -2 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 05:27
women have to make a choice - whether they will leave their baby to a nanny (bai) for d sake of moolah and some unending quest for 'equity partnership' or choose to lead a stable, happy, relaxed life with one's family...i mean money is important but after all its just a means to an end (being peace and happiness)...
trust me a spinster who is a partner at the age of 50 will not be half as 'happy' as a mother of 2 kids earning 1/2 as is more than a career and money...we r humans not robots even if the top shot firms wants us to be!!
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Like +1 Object -0 Right 26 Jul 11, 16:52
And you know this - how? Many women may love the prospect of having 2 kids and earning half as much but many may also find it equally fulfilling to achieve professional success, travel, live a full life and discover the world in the many ways that doesn't involve producing babies. The choice may not be as self evident or materialistic as you imagine it to be.

Besides, if it is a couple's decision to have a child, why aren't the male partners suffering professional setbacks?
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Like +1 Object -0 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 06:56
In response to #5, of course women have to make a choice as to whether they prefer their work life or their family life (a slightly more radical one than men who also have to decide in some ways to balance their work / personal lives). However, like a man, a woman too can aim to balance both. Such balance is difficult for a woman to achieve when her kids are small and need her (and need their father too). Hence, the discussion about being supportive to women lawyers during these times so that they do not have to give up their professions entirely or compromise to an extent that they cannot get back on the partnership track. Why shouldn't they aim for equity (and indeed many successful women equity partners have been able to achieve that balance with support)? Children will grow up and have their own schedules (school, college, job, etc.), husbands will continue to be busy pursuing/ fulfilling their careers, why should a bright and keen woman be left out just because she took a few years break / flexi time when her family needed her to and she wanted to for her family needs. Its not always about the money, #5. I am not sure if you are a woman or a man but I am not sure you pursue your career only because you get paid. Sometimes it can be out of interest and a sense of achievement. As for your spinster argument, I agree and I am sure a bachelor at the age of 50 will not be as happy as his married and settled counterpart.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 08:49
commendable article. maybe the first study of this kind.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 22:07
I must say very well written article with quotes from various law firm’s women partners.
I think not only in legal filed but in all the other fields like in army, police, large corporations, females are still considered as “Second Class Officers”. This problem is present worldwide. However, we know that hard work, fortitude and determination and dedication towards work always pays off. So In-spite of such partiality we still have Ms. Kiran Bedi, Ms. Indra Noori, Ms. Zia Modi, Ms. Sonia Gadhi, Ms. Pratibha Patil, Ms. Pallavi and Ms. Vandana Shroff and many upcoming young women in our society.
However, as a woman professional, I personally believe that every child deserves his/ her mother fulltime, atleast for two years ( when a child can not feed himself). And as a human being it is our responsibility to take care of ur kids. Thereafter, woman can fully concentrate on her carrier, its not only for money, but for her own satisfaction and for contributing and giving back to community. Her kids can manage in preschool and at home with any kind of domestic and spouses help, when she is not around.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 28 Jan 10, 22:16
#4 really hit the nail on the head. This is the basic problem in many Indian law firms - associates (and partners in a few cases) waltz in to work at 11 am (some even after 11 am) and don't get straight down to work. Instead they have their morning (or should i say afternoon) cuppa, followed by a chat fest with anyone who is willing to listen and then get down to work for an hour before its lunch time and another hour of doing nothing goes by. Then there are loo breaks and phone breaks and then at around 4 or 5 they realize that they're actually at the office to work.

Anyone who stays at work beyond 10 pm on a regular basis and especially those who "work" till midnight and beyond are what i believe to be incompetent and absolutely inefficient individuals who do not understand the meaning of time management and who have perfected the art of wasting time. Yet these same people, impress their like-minded partners /seniors who actually believe that those who sit and work till 1 am are hard workers. All i can say is wake up and smell the coffee (and boot out the inefficiency!!!!)
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 29 Jan 10, 02:57
Email from the boss

Mail sent by Narayan Murthy to all Infosys staff:

It's half past 8 in the office but the lights are still on...
PCs still running, coffee machines still buzzing...
And who's at work? Most of them??? Take a closer look...

All or most specimens are ??
Something male species of the human race...

Look closer... again all or most of them are bachelors...

And why are they sitting late? Working hard? No way!!!
Any guesses???
Let's ask one of them...
Here's what he says... 'What's there 2 do after going home...Here we get to surf, AC, phone, food, coffee that is why I am working late...Importantly no bossssssss!!!!!!!!!!!'

This is the scene in most research centers and software companies and other off-shore offices.

Bachelors 'Passing-Time' during late hours in the office just bcoz they say they've nothing else to do...
Now what r the consequences...

'Working' (for the record only) late hours soon becomes part of the institute or company culture.

With bosses more than eager to provide support to those 'working' late in the form of taxi vouchers, food vouchers and of course good feedback, (oh, he's a hard worker... goes home only to change..!!).
They aren't helping things too...

To hell with bosses who don't understand the difference between 'sitting' late and 'working' late!!!

Very soon, the boss start expecting all employees to put in extra working hours.

So, My dear Bachelors let me tell you, life changes when u get married and start having a family... office is no longer a priority, family is... and
That's when the problem starts... b'coz u start having commitments at home too.

For your boss, the earlier 'hardworking' guy suddenly seems to become a 'early leaver' even if u leave an hour after regular time... after doing the same amount of work.

People leaving on time after doing their tasks for the day are labelled as work-shirkers...

Girls who thankfully always (its changing nowadays... though) leave on time are labelled as 'not up to it'. All the while, the bachelors pat their own backs and carry on 'working' not realizing that they r spoiling the work culture at their own place and never realize that they would have to regret at one point of time.

So what's the moral of the story??
* Very clear, LEAVE ON TIME!!!
* Never put in extra time ' unless really needed '
* Don't stay back unnecessarily and spoil your company work culture which will in turn cause inconvenience to you and your colleagues.

There are hundred other things to do in the evening..

Learn music...

Learn a foreign language...

Try a sport... TT, cricket.........

Importantly,get a girl friend or boy friend, take him/her around town...

* And for heaven's sake, net cafe rates have dropped to an all-time low (plus, no fire-walls) and try cooking for a change.

Take a tip from the Smirnoff ad: *'Life's calling, where are you??'*

Please pass on this message to all those colleagues and please do it before leaving time, don't stay back till midnight to forward this!!!



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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 07 Feb 10, 01:19
life's calling, where r you ? well this is the time that in legal field even girl are much in to the law firm even they want to work and intellectually advanced . Getting married to a lawyer is not compatibility in partner's life it will again become getting married to profession in long run . Law firm gives good training to d freshers it is no more like d early stigma that your senior lawyer will not share their experience and you have 2 work hard of your own , legal guidance and research is always there . the only thing here I would like 2 highlight is that fresher female lawyer must be given a chance in her profession become wen experience comes her age proceeds more 2wards getting married what we call as a suitable age for getting married. So female budding lawyer/ fresher must be given a chance 2 make their career. then only d vision of the gender bias will change slowly
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Like +1 Object -0 Curious1 07 Feb 10, 12:44
Really!? [At one firm] 5 (out of 7) litigation partners openly say that they do not like to work with female associates/ lawyers because they dont 'feel comfortable' working with them.. Female associates have to make do with working with the only two female litigation lawyers in the firm, because they are out of options..

These firms really need to get a reality check of the notions of equality aka promotion!
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 12 Feb 10, 05:14
women lawyers
The life, the education, the mathernity and to work are rights of the women. All can be togheter: in India, in Jordania, in Italy, in Brazil, in Afganisthan and in the around world. Opportune and very good article.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 15 Feb 10, 22:38
Women lawyers, though in minority, are at the zenith of their careers and are doing extremely well. Via this Article, core issues, a matter of concern for women lawyers are highlighted. This Article is an eye-opener to the ground realities. No doubt family support goes to a great extent in supporting a women lawyer in structuring her profession.Neverthless will power, yearning for success and to live her dreams lays the groundwork for her own success.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 16 Feb 10, 04:15
Actually a very nice article..inspiring and motivating...
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous 23 Feb 10, 12:05
Very inspiring article. my experience is concern. when i joined a senior advocate i was told by him that i have to learn the tricks of practise by myself and that i will have access to all his legal files and books. he used to advise me that advocate should possess a killer instinct. well i learned. i used to sit in court rooms even i have finished my case to hear other senior advs cross examining witness or argueing a case. i have completed 10 years in practise. i proudly say that the foundation of my legal career was laid at my senior advs' office. legal profession is such a profession wherein it is a continuous process of learning.
as far as my opinion on marrying a advocate is sometimes added advantage but i have an example of my friend who is advocate married an advocate but her husband's chamber there is only one cabin wherein there is only one table on which her husband sits. i asked her where is your table, she replied i come sometimes in office since she has to look after their two daughters. there are also ego problems among husband and wife if they are both advocates.
only require thing is that if women lawyers have interest and zest for the legal profession then they can succeed through all obstacles and problems in personal as well as professional life.
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Like +0 Object -0 Anonymous guest 07 Feb 11, 05:09
we must understand & accept that success is in the eye of the beholder, also should we realise that it is a fluid concept that changes over time. what i personally like to say is that never let anyone else define success for you.
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