Court in the act... Women lawyers call out in inequality in legal profession

04 October 2017 - 12:54
By Suthentira Govender
Gavel. File photo
Image: Wikimedia Commons. Gavel. File photo

Women may outnumber men in the lecture halls of law schools‚ but the legal profession is still male-dominated.

That’s the word from Amanda Lamond‚ head of the Centre for Integrative Law and founder of Wolela: Women Leading in Law - a network of female lawyers.

The Wolela conference‚ to be hosted in Rivonia‚ Johannesburg‚ on October 6‚ aims to delve into how women can break the glass ceiling in the legal profession.

Speakers include Constitutional Court Judge Leona Theron and US civil rights attorney Dr Artika Tyner.

There were 15‚004 practising male attorneys in 2015‚ compared to 8‚708 female attorneys‚ according to a report published in De Rebus.

“The barriers we’re talking about today are often invisible‚ putting women at a disadvantage as a result of cultural assumptions and organisational structures‚ as well as patterns of interaction that inadvertently benefit men‚” said Lamond.

She said Wolela is not a “men-bashing platform”‚ but was more about “deepening the understanding of what women face and finding solutions”.

Lamond said it was evident that South Africa’s legal profession “is still disproportionately male”‚ given that only six of the 23 judges in the Supreme Court of Appeal were women‚ and that one of the big five law firms only appointed a woman at its helm two years ago.

“We need urgently to change the traditional law firm model and organisational culture. The need now is to move from equality - giving everyone the same thing - to equity - making sure that everyone is empowered to take advantage of the same opportunities‚ in spite of challenges they may face.”

Mimie Memka‚ a council member of the Law Society of South Africa‚ said: “The perception is that the legal playground was never intended for women‚ even though women practitioners have the same abilities to execute the same mandates as our male counterparts.

“Women must not be apologetic. It is our right to be in the profession‚” she said.