Lawyers ‘punished’ for having babies

The Law Society is accused of discriminating against women who take time off work. Picture: Niklas Hallen/AFP/Getty Images

The Law Society is accused of discriminating against women who take time off work. Picture: Niklas Hallen/AFP/Getty Images

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Female lawyers who take time off to have a baby are being discriminated against by the Law Society of Scotland, according to a campaigning lawyer.

Daniel Donaldson, director of Legal Spark, said the Society, whose governance he described as being dominated by “white middle-class men”, is breaching its own equality strategy.

Donaldson, who founded Scotland’s first social enterprise law firm in 2015, said at least three professional practice rules have the potential to discriminate and are contrary to UK non-discrimination law.

“I’m constantly hearing about this unfairness from female colleagues who are considering a career break. They feel they have to choose between their careers or starting a family. No-one is really prepared to rock the boat and speak out about it,” said Donaldson.

Scotland has approximately 11,000 practising solicitors, with women making up 51 per cent of the total. However, the Society itself has identified a 42 per cent pay gap between male and female solicitors.

Glasgow-based Donaldson has pinpointed three concerns over its professional practice rules, which can affect women’s careers.

First, the automatic restrictions placed on practising certificates of solicitors returning to work after a gap of one year.

Second, the rule requiring four years’ unrestricted practising certificates before operating as a principal (manager) of a legal practice.

And third, restricting a solicitor’s ability to supervise a trainee without the requisite period holding a practising certificate.

Donaldson said: “I have constantly raised this with the Society, asking that the potential for discrimination is addressed and the rules amended. However, nothing has been done.

“I am a disabled solicitor and share a common experience with female colleagues who return to work after taking time off to start a family, only to find their practicing certificates unnecessarily restricted, or being told they have to wait until they can again become accredited.

“The Society refuses to publish its own equality and human rights assessments of the practice rules, and does not have a proper mechanism in place to address grievances from solicitors who claim discrimination.”

Iain Burke, convener of the Society’s equality and diversity committee, admitted that more needed to be done to promote gender equality.

“We are confident that we are progressing in the right direction, but we are not complacent and of course there is always more work that we can do in the drive for equality and diversity.

“Restrictions on a solicitor’s practice are applied in a variety of circumstances and with the public interest at the forefront. Some restrictions are statutory, but we are currently looking at how we may be able to accommodate career breaks more flexibly, within the boundaries of the Act that governs our activities.”

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