Women bear brunt of pandemic’s impact on lawyers’ income and mental health

updated on 23 October 2020

A quarter of women working in the legal profession have had their incomes reduced from pre-coronavirus levels, with one in five working reduced hours, a snap poll has found.

A survey of 400 women legal professionals by the Next 100 Years Project revealed the ongoing impact of the pandemic on lawyers’ finances, caring responsibilities and mental health. Some 32% of respondents’ employers had made redundancies as a result of the pandemic, while 55% believe that women in the profession have been disproportionately impacted by cuts and redundancies.

Over 60% of respondents said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health and 55% said that their caring responsibilities had increased since the pandemic had begun.

A law firm partner participating in the survey said: “Women have really struggled with childcare and are worried about appraisals, especially when there is talk of rewarding those who ‘stepped up’ during lockdown.”

Another partner said: “As an employment lawyer who specialises in sex discrimination work for professional women, I have seen numerous female clients, especially mothers, lose their jobs in the past six months where it’s evident caring responsibilities have been a factor.”

A third partner highlighted the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women at her firm: “All our secretaries are female, and we are a very traditional firm with a lot of secretarial staff. The majority were furloughed along with only two male junior lawyers. All 12 staff we made redundant were female secretaries.”

A barrister commented: “The caring responsibilities are my biggest concern. I have three young children and have had periods where they have had to self-isolate, so my work has been affected. It will continue to happen and adversely affect women.”

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The Next 100 Years and chief executive of Obelisk Support, said: “The survey shows that women in the legal profession continue to be put under pressure by this crisis. A significant minority are still experiencing lower incomes and hours than they enjoyed before covid and there are concerns that redundancies are more likely to impact women, whether due to the roles they traditionally work in, childcare responsibilities or the continued dominance of men at senior levels.

“Although the situation has improved considerably since our lockdown survey in May, women are still feeling the fall-out from that period and remain apprehensive about the ongoing impact increased caring responsibilities will have on their working lives.”