At first glance, you as a woman lawyer might be tempted to pull up stakes and take yourself to Paris: according to a report by the Paris Bar, after rapid increases in the number of female law graduates there over the last few years, the number of registered women lawyers now outstrips the men, the women start practicing at a slightly younger average age than men, and one large Parisian firm, Lefèvre Pelletier & Associés, boasts female partners comprising 40.6% of the partnership. 

Mon Dieu!  That’s pretty hefty compared to the average US law firm, where only @ 16% of partners are female.

The less-than-good news is that approximately 15% of women lawyers in Paris are partners, while 36% of male lawyers are, with larger firms having proportionally fewer female partners than small ones. Parisian Big Law Gide Loyrette Nouel (at 10%), Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier (at 9%) and Veil Jourde (at 6%) all have fewer female partners than the average, according to The Lawyer’s European 100 Survey.

Women lawyers in Paris also receive lower pay than men. The average income for female lawyers in 2011 was €57,818 compared to an average of €96,536 for men, which the study noted can be partially accounted for by the fact that male lawyers are collectively older, more female lawyers are associates and they also tend to work in less lucrative practice areas. Nonetheless, the Parisians determined these explanations to be "insufficient,” with the resulting plight of women lawyers a disgrace to the profession. Paris law firms were asked to sign a resolution encouraging working arrangements that would allow women lawyers to make more progress in law.

Conducted by the Paris Bar Association, whose recently-elected president, Christiane Féral-Schuhl, is only the second female president in its 800-year history, this study was released just in time for a conference in Paris March 8 celebrating the 101st International Women’s Day.  

The United States first held a national Woman’s Day in 1909. After an initial International Women’s conference was held in 1910, an official International Women’s Day was established in 1911 at which rights to suffrage and discrimination in the workplace were discussed. The day is now recognized by over a 100 countries.

International Women’s Day is just one of the ongoing attempts worldwide to draw attention to the inequality of women in the workplace–the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization of parliaments established in 1889, has set the minimum benchmark to ensure a critical mass of female parliamentarians at 30%–the world average is 19.5%. In 1979 the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was passed.

There have been many women in history who wielded enormous power. Deborah from the Book of Judges led her people to victory over the Canaanites. Theodora, Empress of Byzantium in the sixth century, was arguably more influential than her husband, Justinian. Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh in Egypt 50 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and women continued to hold positions of authority through the millennia. At the close of the 19th century, Empress Cixi of China was said to be more powerful than her contemporary Queen Victoria.  Then there were the Iron Women Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher.

Today there are 18 countries with women leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina, President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, President Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Prime Minister Julia Gil-lard in Australia, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Denmark, President Pratibha Patil in India, Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Prime Minister Yingluck Shina-watra in Thailand. Women also head the government in Liberia, Iceland, Bangladesh, Kosovo, Mali, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Heading a government is not the only avenue to power and influence. Three percent of the US’s Fortune 500 companies are headed by a woman and the most powerful woman in Europe is arguably former Baker & McKenzie managing partner and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, a French woman who was honored at last week’s International Women’s Day conference n Paris and spoke on the same day at the Women in the World Summit in New York City. 

In New York, Lagarde noted that “the degree of risk taking among women is significantly lower” than among men. She suggested that in the corporate world “that balance that is provided by sensible women should be compensated and should be valued,” not just the macho male gambling, which may or may not pay off for investors.“[I]f Lehman Brothers had been a bit more Lehman Sisters … we would not have had the degree of tragedy that we had as a result of what happened.”

Bottom line? The news from Paris appears to be encouraging, and yet their female lawyers, as those elsewhere in the world and women generally, have a ways to go before they arrive at that level playing field.

What was it that Sextus Empiricus said back in the third century? "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine." 

Continue Reading International Women’s Day: Women and the Paris Bar

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