Women in law share covid-19 struggles

updated on 29 May 2020

Half of working mothers in the legal profession are taking on more childcare responsibilities than their partners during the UK’s lockdown, a survey conducted by the team behind the First 100 Years Project reports.

The survey was completed by 900 women, with nine in 10 respondents reporting that they had taken on extra childcare and home-schooling responsibilities as a result of the UK lockdown. A third of respondents are working reduced hours in a bid to juggle these additional responsibilities, with 73% of respondents stating they were finding the situation difficult.

According to the Law Gazette, one law firm partner is “working at home around the clock whilst having to juggle a four-year-old and an ill husband. It is exhausting and at the same time I am dealing with the reality that the firm just may not survive this.” All staff at her firm, except the partners, were put on the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.

An in-house lawyer said: “I am the only female solicitor in a team of five. The other solicitors' partners manage the home-schooling for their children but I have only been able to manage my workload by working early morning and late evening. I don’t want to stand out as having performed more poorly than my male colleagues if there are redundancies later but I don't know how long I can keep it up. I am completely exhausted and there is no end in sight.”

Meanwhile, the survey highlighted that women with no children felt pressured to pick up additional work to support their colleagues with young families and many described feelings of isolation. “The pressure is immense. It felt like I became responsible for bringing new work into chambers overnight, and that I didn’t have a good reason for not accepting work. I’m exhausted”, one barrister said.

The Next 100 Years – founded by solicitor Dana Denis-Smith – conducted the survey. The Next 100 Years follows on from The First 100 Years which reported the journey of women in the law since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 received royal assent and began to pave the way for women to become lawyers for the first time in the UK.

Denis-Smith said that the survey indicates that women in the legal profession are being hit hard by the pandemic. “Many are attempting to do the impossible and there is a reluctance to admit they are not super women,” she said.