The billable hour has become something of a bugbear for law firms for some time, but now one biglaw firm has moved to abolish the practice.
Dawson, who last year was elected Freshfields’ first female senior partner, said the pace of change to date had been ‘too slow’ but acknowledged that some progress on gender equality had been made. For instance, law remained a ‘highly appealing’ career choice and access to the profession did not appear to be a significant problem as far as graduates are concerned. In some parts of the profession, women are getting to the top levels and there are a significant number of women in senior in-house roles.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer senior partner Georgia Dawson, who was elected as Freshfield’s first female senior partner last year, said that law firms were slow to change on areas like gender equality and their law firm billing practices.
Although the law remained a ‘highly appealing’ choice of career and women were making good progress in many senior roles, there was still an ‘ecosystem problem’ with in the law profession, saying lawyers needed to ‘measure outputs rather than inputs.
Reported in the Law Society Gazette at a keynote speech she said “for many years, efforts have focused on improving gender equality, giving individuals the tools to navigate the profession as it currently exists and operates. There have been efforts to improve aspects of the ecosystem, [such as] unconscious bias training.’
“However, ‘we have to recognise not all women have the same experience of work. There are additional barriers for women, such as women of colour or disabilities. The pandemic has provided us an opportunity to reimagine the practice of law and have the chance to reshape the ecosystem as something fairer for all.’
In terms of action, Dawson said management needed to be held accountable for the lack of progress on gender equality. The firm has already had issues of its own regarding its handling of women in the firm and has made bold moves to change.
Earlier this year the firm announced a series of diversity targets, which includes new partners to be at least 40 per cent women. Dawson told the event that the firm had exceeded that target this year. ‘I was on a call talking about next year’s partner calls and it’s looking just as strong from a gender diversity point,’ she said.
The firm’s targets include for the period from 2021 – 2026 include –
- New partners will be at least 40% women and 40% men (20% men, women or non-binary)
- All key global leadership functions will have ethnic diversity and at least 40% women and 40% men (20% men, women or non-binary) by 2023
- Doubling the number of black associates at the firm by 2026
- A LGBTQ+ global partnership target of at least 5% by 2026
The changing of the way law firm billing is handled is another matter is clearly in the sights of the firm also, echoing increasing moves towards more divergent law firm billing practices among many large and small firms alike.