The Post-Pandemic “New Normal” and Women in the Legal Profession
While we’ve come a long way, gender bias still affects women at all levels of the legal profession. Those challenges have become even more complex with the “new normal” of our post-pandemic work lives.
The pandemic had a profound impact on work in the legal profession. Remote work not only posed logistical challenges, but also required significant adjustments to keep teams connected, engaged, and productive. We all embraced—and then burned out on—virtual meetings and social hours. At the same time, lawyers working from home had to confront new concerns around lack of access to childcare and other household and personal services.
These issues particularly impacted women. According to a 2021 ABA study, Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward, women were disproportionately more likely to experience disruption on account of family and household issues, feel overwhelmed, and experience stress about work and advancement.
According to the ABA study, coming out of the pandemic, many lawyers report wanting to continue with the flexibility permitted by remote working—77 percent preferring fewer than four days a week in the office. But law firm leaders are concerned about the long-term implications for team-building, mentoring, teaching, and the overall culture of their organizations.
I think these concerns are heightened when it comes to women and their advancement within law firms and other organizations. In order to advance, women need to be visible and active participants in the firm, and to develop deep relationships with mentors and clients. But remote work makes visibility and peer/ mentor support more difficult. Without regular face-to-face, non-billable interactions, we strain the personal connections that keep a focus on supporting women, or never develop them in the first place. Although the convenience factor makes remote work attractive (I like spending the day in my leggings and hoodie with the best of them), it may not best serve women, particularly women working in a traditional law-firm environment.
We need to think about new policies, programs, and strategies to support and encourage women and all minorities in the current environment. In addition to firm programs that are important to women, such as family care resources and permitting remote or hybrid work, we need to adapt our traditional pathways to advancement and business development to provide room for women to bring their skills to bear. We also need to heighten awareness of the need to, and innovative means to, provide mentorship.