Male-dominated law firms risk losing work: Acritas survey

A global survey of general counsel shows how a male-dominated law firm may have a harder time winning work from an increasingly female in-house bar — but at least one expert on female GCs isn’t buying it.

Carrie Mandel says the differences may be more generational than gender-based.The Sharplegal market survey, conducted by U.K.-based Acritas, asked 2,000 senior in-house counsel what factors in their relationships with external counsel would affect spending decisions in the near future. The results point to a subtle contrast in the way women and men approach these relationships.

“Sharplegal data highlights the way in which stereotypical approaches to new business and client service, based around masculine values and preferences, can jeopardize a firm’s chances of winning work from female GCs,” said Acritas CEO Lisa Hart Shepherd in a statement.

For example, whereas male GCs were more likely to value factors related to “trustworthiness” (such as reputation, credentials, and experience), female GCs were much more likely to value communication skills and a specific understanding of the business issues at hand.

According to the survey, female GCs want more involvement in matters delegated to external counsel. They’re looking for responsiveness and interaction in their communications, whereas male GCs place greater emphasis on trust and therefore are more likely to take a hands-off approach.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that women are also, according to the survey, more likely than men to build relationships with their external counsel via online channels, versus the stereotypical golf-course outings intended to build trust among men. Forty-three per cent of women in senior in-house legal roles said they used LinkedIn daily or weekly, as opposed to one-third of men.

Carrie Mandel a lawyer and member at executive search firm Stuart Spence, isn’t entirely convinced by the Acritas findings.

Mandel, who interviewed 32 leading Canadian female GCs for her 2013 book Breaking Through: Tales from the Top Canadian Women General Counsel, says it’s true that female general counsel want to see greater diversity at the firms they use, but she believes the Acritas findings are pointing to a generation gap, not a gender gap.

The fact is, female general counsel also tend to be younger than male GCs, says Mandel. As a result, they may not be as habituated to the old ways of doing things — where external counsel were left to their own devices and legal fees weren’t discussed.

“Why is communication more important to women? Well, a lot of the women that I interviewed were first-time GCs of their companies, and they’re operating in a new economic environment where you don’t just farm out all the work without paying a close eye on what’s going on.

“If you have the next generation of legal leaders coming in — and they happen to be women, and the economic model happens to be changing at the same time — it’s all kind of correlation, not causation.”

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