I qualified in 2006 and have found that many of my female colleagues find themselves ‘stuck’ in personal injury work. It is of course true that many enjoy this area of law, but it remains extremely difficult for women from working class or non-white backgrounds to get exposure to other practice areas. Many firms in the North West of England are over-reliant on fast track personal injury work and it is a major source of legal employment here. It is a sad fact that many PI paralegals are unlikely to secure a training contract despite working very hard for years and obtaining good quality experience.
At college in the late 1990s, I struggled to decide whether to take the solicitor or barrister route, I found myself opting for the former because I lacked confidence and didn’t believe I had a chance at getting pupillage despite my great academic results. I had several training contract interviews with big North West firms but no joy. In order to continue on the path to qualification instead of giving up, I moved to a seaside town and did a stint as a paralegal for a firm who could only offer me a training contract with seats in personal injury and conveyancing. I wanted to work in litigation, so I continued with my personal injury cases and have done ever since. Once you are ‘pigeon-holed’ in this way, it is very difficult indeed to shake it off. There are return to work support services for those women lawyers who have taken time off with children, but nothing similar it seems for women who need a new challenge and would like to re-train into a different practice area.
Given there are now more women entering the profession than men, I very much hope that they have access to the full range of opportunities and don’t find themselves limited to those (perhaps) less prestigious practice areas by their gender and background.