Kim Simmonds, CEO and Founder at Law 365
Finalist for 2020 “Entrepreneur of the Year”
Why do you feel it is important to recognise women within the legal profession?
We should recognise women lawyers because they are clearly an important part of the growing legal profession. More women than ever are choosing to become lawyers - a career path which is interesting and varied, and which can be lucrative as well as fulfilling. We love it!
It’s up to the women who are already in the profession to encourage and inspire the newcomers and be positive role models for them. The number of women in leadership roles is still thin. Without women leading firms and setting the tone, we will not see the cultural shift we want to see.
We need to recognise the variety of successful women in the legal profession to show there are numerous paths to success. They also need to know there’s an alternative to being ‘side-lined’ if they go on to have a family or to feeling outnumbered at senior level. That’s why it’s especially great to see female led firms, where the women set the agenda and are leading the new frontier.
We should recognise women because women are incredibly talented and have different life skills to men - they also deserve more acknowledgement and praise. We all need to be better at praising ourselves and feel comfortable to do so, and we need to raise others up and give them a voice. With so many more men than women in legal leadership roles, women’s achievements can feel smaller by sheer volume.
We need women to know that there are multiple role models for them to emulate. Not every woman wants to have a child, but she may still face difficulties progressing in a male-dominated firm.
There should be more championing of women! Awards build confidence and raise profiles showcasing what these incredible women are capable of. Women need to be better at celebrating about their success, but until they do that, they need to have their praises sung for them, they need to be pushed and encouraged to lean in and accept praise and recognition.
How do you develop diversity?
One of my team said she thinks that the biggest barrier to gender diversity is that it’s still a male-dominated profession, especially at the top.
We need diverse leadership
People need to see people who look like them leading the profession – female leaders, gay leaders, black and minority leaders as well as white, straight men. We know that people unconsciously hire people who look like them and sound like them – so there needs to be diversity in HR and the recruiters too.
Male-led firms still struggle to control behaviour that can be juvenile and laddish. The culture can be subtly off-putting for women, or in some cases, openly sexist. Every woman has a story to tell about gender bias, but those aren’t exclusive to the legal profession.
We need to redefine what success looks like.
It is not working 24/7 and clockwatching – that’s a revenue model, but it’s not a life.
The most damaging part of the male-led environment is the view that every lawyer should be available 24/7. It drives people out of the profession. It’s a belief that alienates women who want to have a family life and narrows the market to those who can work those hours. It’s a belief that has made women feel that they have to choose between family and work and that having both in this profession is near impossible – especially if your ambition is to reach the top. To accommodate diversity, we need to create an environment where everyone can flourish.
When I became a mother, it felt like I only had 2 choices – the law (lots of childcare support etc) or motherhood (stepping off the career ladder). I think you can be a mum and a good lawyer. You don’t have to choose between one or the other. I hope I’m showing my team that there’s a 3rd option.
Celebrate the part-time worker
“Work smarter not harder”
And you shouldn’t be penalised for working part-time. There is an entrenched view that part-time workers shouldn’t be promoted in the same way as full time which seems to infer that time equates more than output or quality of output of work.
My team feels the same way, one of them told me, “I’ve proven that I’m willing to work harder than my colleagues for the flexibility to work part-time. And I’ve proven that I can work part-time and (when I was working billable hours) still bill more hours than full-time lawyers who were still in the office at 9pm. Nobody manages their time better than a busy mother.”
Set an example
I want Law 365 to be a breath of fresh air.
We want to be role models – demonstrating that there is a better way of delivering client work. You CAN have it all – a job and a family.
And we want to be disruptive – shattering the misguided expectations that have limited female lawyers in the past.
Law 365 works hard to provide an environment where there is a real work/life balance – so working parents can thrive, but so can anyone who has interests they want to pursue outside the office. By caring about the wellbeing of our staff we able to attract a more diverse range of well qualified applicants who otherwise are not able to commit to the hours of city firms.
Focus on their wellbeing, and your staff will deliver
Strong client relationships are so important to the business, but this is not to the detriment of personal wellbeing. I truly feel that this way of living and working would attract people from all ages, stages and walks of life, because quite honestly, who wouldn’t want that balance?
Law 365 operates in a way that really shouldn’t be ground-breaking, but is. Employees are encouraged to take care of themselves as well as their clients. We have a coach who works individually with each member of staff for 2 hours a month (and every other week with us as a team.) First to shake off any preconceived notions that might be limiting their success, and then to develop the skills and mindset that will help them reach their goals.
At Law 365, I’ve achieved this by managing client expectations, which includes acknowledging that employees have a life outside work and do not have to be available 24/7.
If someone is part-time, there are other lawyers in the office to pick up work if needed. At some firms, there’s no safety net if you’re out of the office, which is stressful. We have each other’s back. I work to foster a team ethos, rather than rewarding personal achievement gained at someone else’s expense.
You can have balance, at home and at work.
What single profession-wide initiative would you advocate to advance the cause of gender diversity within the law?
To have gender diversity, we first need gender equality. We can't expect true change in the workplace until new fathers have the same parental leave as mothers, and both feel they can take that leave without fear of penalty or cost to their career. The current system doesn’t allow men to become primary caregivers which makes it hard for women to continue their careers after childbirth, often at key times of career development. If men share the childcare, women will be able to stay in the game.
Notorious RBG knew the answer – she made strides in equality for women by first recognising and championing the rights of men – specifically the rights of a single father, Charles Moritz who had claimed a tax deduction for the cost of a caregiver for his invalid mother, which the Internal Revenue Service denied. The Supreme Court ruled that you couldn’t deny a claim “on the basis of sex” opening the floodgates for women’s rights – the right to a fair wage, the right to attend any public University, the right to choose who you marry, and of course the right to abortion.
Note: Scandinavia is probably the best example of this, “New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay Out of these 480 days, 60 must be taken by the father or else all are lost.” But even there, corporate and societal pressure ensures that it’s the fathers whose careers are prioritised.
In the meantime, it just makes sense to have regular supported reviews for women returning to work to discuss career progression and to be much more open to job sharing and flexible hours. I’m also very hopeful that the move to work from home this year will open doors for women who have previously been refused flexible work arrangements.
What is your company’s key message to women looking to progress or start a career in the law industry?
Help each other in this quest to raise and lift women up. We can be the change we want to see. A successful career does not mean you have to sacrifice your family or personal life. I think women (or primary caregivers) are expected to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t have a career. This is not true at Law 365, there’s a real emphasis on balance. Progressing a career in law will always have challenges but at Law 365, there just aren’t any more barriers being built by our employer.
Do it – you’ll be brilliant. We need you!