A waste of talent | 9 September 1988
We have often found it strange to read in the daily papers of yet another poll of a few hundred people which when analysed shows that the Conservative party now has a lead of 14 per cent over the Labour party. What we find strange is that with what appears to be such a small sample the polls are so often right.
In passing we might say that it spoils election night, but what we are really considering is the solicitors' career structure survey recently published by the Law Society and conducted by their resident psephologist Peter Marks of the Polytechnic of Central London.
Of course Mr Marks is not really a psephologist but a statistician, and the numbers with which he has worked - 416 solicitors out of a total now approaching 60,000 - seems absurdly small from which to obtain any generalisations. Nevertheless, we have no doubt that after he has done his chi squared tests Mr Marks has accurately told us about the career patterns of young solicitors as a whole and how they vote about their futures. And fascinating reading the results do make. For a start, sizable proportions hope to have retired by 55 or even younger. For young men the aim is to obtain a partnership, and a change of job occurs when that ambition is thwarted. For young women it appears that prospects are of less importance than family considerations.
Much of the survey is indeed related to women's careers, the time taken off work to have a child and the subsequent return to the profession either full or part time. It seems that about 18 per cent had difficulties.
When the survey relates to only some 29 women then at first sight it may not seem to be a very damaging statistic, but given that the numbers of entry into the profession are now more or less equal it can be seen that over the years a very substantial number of women are going to experience what may be totally unnecessary difficulties over a temporary absence from practice whilst bringing up families.
There were reported instances of difficulty in obtaining part time work, but the main reason seems to be a loss of confidence. It should not be difficult for the profession as a whole to help overcome this problem. Short refresher courses could be made available as part of a leave package, so could the opportunity to work a few hours a week possibly from home. Even sending round the weekly law magazines would be a help to keep in touch. At present the problem is not one on a wide scale but if it is not tackled, many hundreds, if not thousands of able solicitors will be lost to the profession over the next decade or so. We can ill afford to lose one able solicitor let alone such a number.
Firms neglecting able women solicitors are probably doing so at their own peril. In London and the major cities in particular, the cost of office space and the task of finding premises big enough to accommodate the burgeoning populations of law firms both create major problems. How attractive it should be to have skilled 'out' workers able to take your office overload. Many major employers are using this arrangement to mutual benefit. Solicitors should take note.