It is International Womens Day on 8 March 2020, a day in which the legal profession will be reflecting on how far away the industry is from achieving gender equality. To reach such a goal, law firms and organisations may be prompted to discuss pay equity, gender quotas, to the bullying and harassment of women that has been identified as an industry-specific problem.
For episode six of the Thomson Reuters Change Makers Podcast, we invited Anthea McIntyre, owner and Director of McIntyre Legal to join us in the studio. We consider Anthea as a Change Maker and advocate for women in the law, because in addition to running a successful boutique law firm specialising in all areas of wills and estates, she is known for founding Lawyer Mums Australia, the Facebook forum for Australian lawyer mothers. Boasting 2,762 members and counting, the group offers a safe space for participants to connect with each other about their day-to-day experiences in the profession and as mothers. Anthea’s group is supported by Sharna Clemmett, a Sydney-based Barrister who is administering the Facebook group.
Anthea McIntyre has carved out a significant online community that is well-loved by those who are part of it, including our very own Head of Commercial and In-House at Practical Law, Tyrilly Csillag. Tyrilly counts herself as a women lawyer who has reaped the benefits of Lawyer Mums Australia and joined Catherine Roberts, our regular host of the Change Makers Podcast on the program.
Lawyer Mums Australia was born out of Anthea's experience as a first time Mum and feeling isolated and lonely on 14 July, 2014. At this point in her life, she had a one-year-old and two-year-old and, yet while she loved being a mother, Anthea was missing the mental stimulation of being a corporate lawyer. She was yearning to get back into the legal workforce but couldn’t bring herself to put her little ones into daycare five days a week, because the ‘mother guilt’ was all too real.
Anthea plugged ‘lawyer mums’ into Google and the search results were dire. An online formal support group for lawyer mums to connect with each other over their careers simply didn’t exist. So during the lunchtime hour that her babies were sleeping, she set up Lawyer Mums Australia on Facebook and invited three friends. The community grew to 200 in a week and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We are a mixture of solicitors, Barristers, in-house counsel, legal consultants, we have Senior Counsel like Jane Needham who was recently on this program...women who are on maternity leave and just want to still feel connected to the legal community. And Gee, I wish I had access to a group like this when I was on maternity leave and feeling really isolated. That is how this group was created,” said Anthea.
Tyrilly’s experience of the Facebook group is overly positive, where she says on the podcast that it is a safe space. Part of that feeling of safety comes from the membership vetting process. You have to hold a current practising certificate to be accepted into the forum.
“The main thing that I really love about the group is that it helps you bring together that conflict in identity, that you have sometimes have when you're at home with a young child. So the conflict between being an at-home Mum and being a successful lawyer in the office.”
Why are women lawyers leaving the profession?
During the Change Makers Podcast, Catherine asked Anthea what some of the common challenges are for women lawyers, that she is seeing crop up time and again in the Facebook forum. Furthermore, Catherine questions what is prompting women to opt out of the legal profession.
“I think it's mother guilt. I think it's not being there for the ‘Easter Hat Parade’. I think it's not being there to create the beautiful outfit for Book Week and feeling constantly torn between a child who needs you in their childhood...And I think women you know, they naturally they don't want to miss out, they want to be wonderful mothers and lawyers, and we’re naturally overachievers we want everything,” replied Anthea.
“We want to be the mother of a child with the best Easter hat. We also want to be running High Court litigation, we want to be doing everything and you just can't have it all. And this idea of, you know, work-life balance is a really difficult, really difficult thing to achieve. And I think that that's why many women do eventually leave the profession.”
Shift in workplace flexibility for lawyer parents
Anthea has noticed a real shift in the last three years that is making it easier for lawyer mothers to get back into the profession.
“There are new types of law firms that are opening up. No longer is it just the traditional law firm of starting as a lawyer, making your way through as a senior associate and becoming a Partner.
“I'm over 40 so people who are more senior practitioners can become legal consultants at other law firms. They can in fact, become independent contractors and run their own law firms within large law firms. I think a lot of members in our group are solo practitioners largely because a lot of women find that running their own business and setting their own work hours to be the best way of balancing being a mother and having a fulfilling career.”
Popular topics in the Lawyer Mums Australia forum
While posts are moderated and anonymous outside the group, Anthea was able to provide some high level topics that crop up regularly. They include:
Job interview tips from what to wear with how best to answer questions
Law firm salary bands and billable hour pricing discussions between lawyer mothers who suspect they are being underpaid or undercharging for their legal services (of course specific details are not disclosed publicly, but would happen in a more confidential manner with private messaging)
Practical guidance on dealing with clients who are domestic violence victims/survivors
Poor workplace behaviour and how to handle it as a victim or bystander
Flexible working discussions where women lawyers swap stories
Nanny referrals for women who’ve woken up with sick child yet have no family to call upon for babysitting
Political issues such as the cost of childcare that some argue may be pushing women out of the legal profession
Fashion advice on the best maternity clothing brands and outfits
When it comes to the future of Lawyer Mums Australia, Anthea would like to keep the forum away from commercial advertising.
“I would like it to remain purely about supporting each other, but in a genuine way. I would like women to just continue to prop each other up. There are at least 20 posts a day where someone will say ‘Oh, can you recommend a family lawyer or a wills and estates lawyer or criminal lawyer? And then, you know, we're all commenting with women who we know who are fabulous in those areas of the law. That’s what I love to just see, that we're just all supporting each other in our careers and in our journeys,” Anthea concluded.
Missed our last episode of the Change Makers Podcast? Head over to Women at the Bar for Jane Needham SC and Kate Eastman SC’s take on the next generation of fierce barristers challenging the status quo.