Sunday, 10 March 2013

Francesca Kaye

LSLA President Francesca Kaye is concerned about “talent leakage” from the legal profession and is planning to do something about it.  Surely there must be something wrong with a profession that loses so many practitioners at the height of their careers – across all areas of legal practice and affecting both genders.  We spoke in the run-up to International Women’s Day this week so I was keen to quiz Francesca about the plight of women in the profession, particularly following Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff’s headline-grabbing pronouncements that the profession needs to get better at flexible working and “stop promoting mediocre men” at the expense of talented women.  The statistics are well known, but no less shocking in their familiarity: some 40% of female lawyers will have left the profession by the time they reach nine years qualified.  An expensive loss of the firms who employ and invest in them – and surely a personal tragedy for the individual women themselves?

“We certainly need to look at our current model and think about what we need to change to stop such widespread disenfranchisement”, she tells me.  “But I have to say, I don’t see this issue as limited to gender.  We have just as much a challenge in keeping talented men engaged – after all they are as key to their families as women, so the issue of juggling work and family can be just as intense in their lives.  And it’s not just about balancing work and family – today’s practitioner wants to have time for a fulfilling personal life outside of work, whatever that entails.

“I also think it’s interesting to look at the experience of the “gender neutral working environments” that the pharmaceutical sector has toyed with.  The big surprise is that these initiatives still haven’t stopped women choosing to leave the workplace to concentrate full time on their families.  I think we have to question some of our assumptions here.  Perhaps the problem is that we’re insisting on seeing it as a problem at all.  Perhaps these women make a positive choice.  Dare I say it, could it be associated with that age-old prejudice, seeing the role of full-time parent and home-maker as intrinsically less valuable than that of money-maker and family breadwinner? 

“I would advocate a reassessment of equality.  What do we mean by that term? Equality of choice is certainly important.  But does equality of numbers actually mean very much at all?  I’d argue a focus on the numbers is arbitrary at best – and worse, the ‘tokenism’ this inevitably leads to is in danger of undermining talented women’s credibility, making their experience in the workplace all the harder. Am I in favour of female quotas on senior management teams?  Can you guess? No, I am not!”

Francesca believes the answer to some of the more intractable aspects of retaining talent will not be found in simplistic, one-dimensional solutions.  I’m particularly keen to do what I can to see how things can be changed in the world of litigation practice.  It’s going to require some deep thinking, some forensic analysis of what’s really going on and some creative thought about how to change things for the better – and in a way that works not just in “laboratory conditions”, but in the cut and thrust of the real world. For example it’s not easy to think of flexible working models that work in the very special context of big cases, where work is so demanding – indeed all-consuming – for months, even years at a time.  We need to put our collective heads together to find a way.”

She is planning a high level round table discussion later this year on the subject of how to improve talent retention in the field of litigation.  If you have ideas, or would like to assist, please do let her know.
Hot news this week was Supreme Court Judge Lord Neuberger beating Justin Bieber to the top trending spot on Twitter.  Legal Cheek delighted us with the headline "UK's top Judge ousts Justin Bieber As Twitter's Hottest Topic After Voicing Legal Aid Concerns". This revelation follows on neatly from my theme a fortnight ago that one of the reasons The Guardian has decided to publish more of its legal news through its main news pages, rather than via a stand-alone legal section, may simply be because legal issues are increasingly mainstream rather than specialist interest.
Of course the judiciary is a world apart from the realm of pop celebrity with its outrageous behaviour and laissez-faire anything-goes attitude.  Indeed judging from the outrage of fans kept waiting for his performance at the O2 in London this week, the likes of Bieber could learn a lesson or two from the professional values of the legal establishment.  The Beliebers, (as his fans are known), were kept up way past their bedtime as a result of the two-hour concert delay, poor things.  This young man has a lot to learn.  ..  Sorry, what was that?  ...No, I hadn't heard...  Say again?  A judge formally reprimanded by the Office for Judicial Complaints for "unacceptable delays" in handing down a judgment?  What, in the same week as the Bieber delay debacle?  Maybe the two worlds are not so far apart after all...
I have been looking forward to the Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Modern, as regular readers of this blog will know.  And this week's visit didn't disappoint.  Exciting to see these famous high-impact images "in the flesh" for the first time.  Particularly interesting to see them in the week of International Women's Day, as the depiction of women in popular culture is one of Lichtenstein's big themes.  Similarly to the grandaddy of pop art Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein was intrigued by the art and ideology of consumerism.  Reading up about him for the exhibition, I learn that his work "explored the potent collision of commercial and fine art", and that he was fascinated by "the depiction of objects manipulated by disembodied female hands in consumer advertising, suggesting the portrayal of women as an extension of the household appliance".  Of all the roles the modern day woman is expected to play, this is probably the one I am least familiar with - as anyone in my family will tell you!  

Do make time to enjoy the exhibition, which runs till 27 May.  You'll enjoy.

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