Women in the legal industry

an image of a female silhouette

The legal sector has typically consisted of mainly male professionals for the overwhelming majority of its centuries old history. That is changing with the percentage of female lawyers, now representing 48.8 per cent of all practicing solicitors1. In 2016, 17,335 students were accepted onto undergraduate and graduate courses in law in the UK, 67.3 per cent were women.

In the same year, 61 per cent of solicitors admitted to the roll were women.

Yet despite this shift, just eight women held senior management roles in the UK’s top 50 legal firms.2

Going further, there is also a huge gender gap in the patent and innovation space. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research in the US conducted a study on the number of women holding patents; although women have quintupled their representation among patent holders since 1977, there is still just a small percentage of patents held by women. In 1997, just 3.4 per cent of patents were held by women. While this had risen to 18.8 per cent in 2010, just 7.7 percent of these patents had a woman as the primary holder.

Although there is a large gender gap in these industry, and thankfully a shrinking one at that, it’s important to highlight women in the legal profession who are already in place doing great work in legal and innovation.

“Competence and professionalism go beyond gender”Giulia Gasparin, Style.com

To mark International Women’s Day and to get an insight into what inspires them and the challenges they face in the industry itself, PatSnap sat down with Laura Schoppe, CEO of Fuentek, Sona Dalal, director of operations at Novel IP and Giulia Gasparin, legal counsel at Style.com.

Giulia GasparinGiulia Gasparin
Sona DalalSona Dalal
Laura SchoppeLaura Schoppe

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During your career, have you come across anything particularly challenging?

Sona: “Absolutely.  As a woman, some of my greatest challenges have come from other women that may be in inferior positions, and as such, perceive themselves as inferior and tend to be abrasive towards other women because of this insecurity.  I still struggle with this challenge, trying to focus on garnering an understanding of equality amongst women.  After all, we have enough challenges to deal with!”

Giulia- “I believe that Brexit poses challenges to all legal professionals. It causes great uncertainties in terms of the future legal and regulatory landscape of the United Kingdom. Uncertainty has a side-effect on market operators and the wider community.”

Who do you look up to as leader?

Giulia: “Regulators, and in particular the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. In the immediate aftermath of last June referendum, Ms Denham assured the public that the UK will implement the new European data protection regulation. This was a powerful statement for businesses and consumers alike.”

Are there any causes that are personal to you?

Sona: “I am particularly drawn to organisations that help families succeed in today’s society and marketplace.  Many of these organisations are not focused on purely handing out help (while they do this as well), but more on teaching self-subsistence.”

What led you or inspired you to be where you are today?

Laura: “I started in engineering in combat systems. I liked the business part of it and whilst working at GE, I had the opportunity to talk to GE Medical and work on some of the projects there. That was the first time I learnt how to spell commercialisation and it fascinated me to see how to take inventions from one place and commercialise it. Tech transfer, commercialisation and innovation is all in that space.”

Many young adults are unsure about their futures, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 21-year old self?

Laura: “I don’t regret my path. I would say that straight out of university, you need to do the technical first and make sure it is not something you want to continue. When you move into the business side, it is hard to go back. Get your check mark before getting an MBA or going into the business part. When it comes to innovation and managing it, you need to understand what it takes to make a product otherwise, how do you advise that and remain strategic about it?”

Sona: “To be strong. In the face of adversity, things will not always turn out the way we want them to. But we have to absolutely be strong and look at each outcome as an opportunity to grow, develop, and learn. Embrace “failure”. And I would also remind myself that it is easier said than done.”

If you could choose an alternative career path, what would it be and why?

Laura: “I would probably do foundation work and help encourage women and minorities to go into education. I work on First Robotics to help kids get excited about engineering and science. Alternatively, I have also thought about a career in politics, however looking at the way things are going, it’s probably not a good idea.”

With International Women’s Day tomorrow, what challenges, if any, have you faced as a woman in your industry?

Laura: “In school, I was one in 13 and in grad school, one in 100 - the challenges are different. When I was in the submarine combat system, I was one in 1000. I would say take advantage of your uniqueness, you are different so acknowledge it, respect it and make sure you are being respected. Being different helps you get noticed and remembered. Change your challenge into advantage and don’t wait for people to ask you, take initiative, we as women have been socialised to wait and ask.”

Giulia-: “Women are generally predominant in the fashion industry at all levels. As such, this environment doesn't pose any particular challenge for female workers. We can all agree that competence and professionalism go beyond gender, though in other sectors there is a sort of "natural" gender gap, like IT for example, where more men than women generally pursue their career."

"I would say take advantage of your uniqueness, you are different so acknowledge it, respect it and make sure you're respected" Laura Schoppe, Fuentek

The IP industry has been changing over the years with the UPC being introduced in Europe and the TPP being scrapped in the US, how do you see the IP industry changing in the next 10 years?

Sona: “I think the IP industry is moving away from inventors creating under the umbrella of large companies towards individual inventors (physicians, scientists) forming companies around inventions without reliance on a larger global forum.  Perhaps it is moving back to the hands of the inventor, where large global forces, such as the UPC and TPP aren’t as daunting or cost-prohibitive for these inventors seeking to capitalize on their innovations.”

1http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/law-careers/becoming-a-solicitor/entry-trends/

2https://jobs.thelawyer.com/article/where-are-the-women-law-firm-leaders-/

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