30 Sep 2021 6:53 AM GMT
When it is the month of June right after a long vacation at the Madras High Court, I see a rush of fresh graduates maneuvering around the Courts, and it feels overwhelming to see the cycle of new budding lawyers embellishing the Courts. However, we also begin to observe that during the course of time the women lawyers consistently disappear from the profession. By the time a decade is...
When it is the month of June right after a long vacation at the Madras High Court, I see a rush of fresh graduates maneuvering around the Courts, and it feels overwhelming to see the cycle of new budding lawyers embellishing the Courts. However, we also begin to observe that during the course of time the women lawyers consistently disappear from the profession. By the time a decade is down, the women lawyers sustaining can literally be tallied in numbers. I could hardly count the women practicing currently, who I knew and saw back then in 2011.
It put food for my thoughts, and I began thinking what are the opportunities available for women in this profession? I started contemplating if women are discriminated by any client only by virtue of being a woman or did their opportunities/achievements diminish because of their gender. The answer to this was in the negative, perhaps there may be some incidents as such which cannot be dismissed but not always. So, then what is the problem that has to be identified? The elephant in the room has to be addressed; this profession is physically and mentally challenging in a gazillion ways to the fraternity as a whole regardless of the shortcomings with the gender. In such circumstances, it is about the survival of the fittest, and nothing is a walkover for any lawyer who began from the scratch or without any enhanced privilege.
Being a female lawyer does not score any brownie points before any Court nor does it ease the challenges in any manner. And what has to be seen here is a 'professional' in the making. Further, when we dig deep, it is unidentified as to why the ratio of women lawyers is comparatively less as when compared to the male lawyers. There are many issues apart from the incessant domestic duties of women lawyers who play a pivotal role in leading and moulding their families and running offices. Being a boss at home and at work perhaps is a challenge but cannot be written off as impossible. In no manner can we be oblivious to all the issues faced by women and that is never the intention. All said and done this is the same rut where many are stuck and there is a next phase of an identical struggle as a professional which is the brutal truth. It is appropriate to intonate that leading a family is a tedious and a relentless journey but so is the struggle for our dreams, aspirations and ambitions that are beyond horizons. It is also an undisputable fact that this balance is demanded from any kind of job, not just the legal profession. It is apposite to state that it is time that women move on to the next segment.
To retain and establish an independent practice in law is not a 9 to 5 job, and it requires many elements that are not conventional. We have to adorn many roles such as an entrepreneur, a professional, an administrator and a leader. Litigation is not just about having knowledge of law but overcoming toxic work environment, learning to deal with difficult people, meagre remuneration, taxing work life, extreme physical exertion, hard-wearing work in the registry in the initial days. Towards the end of this pursuit lies a sense of accomplishment, power and position, an empire (in whatever size), a team and contribution to the bar. A lawyer commands respect from all fronts by virtue of their confidence, experience, knowledge, demeanor and hard work which springs a sense of satisfaction. Is everyone ready to complete this expedition is another issue altogether. To be entitled to this triumph we have to make it clear that this profession is not meant for indolent people.
A lawyer's success cannot be measured with the number of briefs one can have or how fancy one's office is. We have to accept that success is subjective and by encouraging women in litigation we don't mean alleged exceptional success in terms of holding multiple briefs or having exclusive landmark judgments or being identified with anything that is deemed influential. The mere participation by being there in the profession will suffice followed by growth which is inevitable because beyond that it is anyway a rat race notwithstanding the gender. It is a personal choice of any lawyer to be content with what they do or jump the orbit. Again, this is the same for men and women.
Today's young women lawyers ought to be taught that they should not be apprehensive to take the leap and that they do not need gender reservations to hold high offices but sheer grit and perseverance, which is the very same journey for all genders. They deserve to be meritoriously rewarded with elevated positions and not merely fill in a disproportion of genders. This will happen only when women show up in Court consistently, where a collegium will not have to choose the potential candidate for elevation with very few options at hand. We have seen empowered women assume offices as Judges of the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate Courts regardless of their marital status. This brings me to the fundamental point with respect to the aspect of being married or unmarried, every woman has a family and a job to do, the responsibilities are on the same footing but it only differs towards whom they are catered to.
This difference is crucial to understand that the 'balance' that we emphasize about is not just premised on the marital status but with the equilibrium of running an office in terms of administration and excelling as a lawyer. There could be situations where a client would insist on scheduling a meeting after 6PM, the lady lawyer is handicapped in such circumstances when she has a pressing domestic duty or cannot accommodate the meeting for whatever reasons. However, the said lawyer may refuse and lose a client for all we know, but after few knock-backs, the clients will start respecting boundaries and adhere to a feasible timeline when they appreciate the professionalism and the mettle of the lawyer. If patients are willing to subject themselves to a doctor's appointment and not raise any apprehension so can clients for a lawyer's appointment. Persistence is the key to discipline and learning to say no without any inhibition is important in any job. Further with the present lifestyle it is no more the case where women can stay home as a matter of choice and some are put in a position where they have to compulsorily work to meet the ever-increasing demands of financial requirements more so during this pandemic.
Let's not forget that in today's era men also have opted for paternal breaks and they also are beginning to balance work and home. For any lawyer it is imperative to channelize their time in an efficient manner so that they have a wholesome life professionally and personally, overworking should not be celebrated as a badge of honour. There is a difference between hard work and overstrained work. The moment women are able to comprehend the reality, we would be able to see many women being able to break stereotypes and not just settle for something that has been told and accepted as a parable without even trying.
Judges can also reprimand women, and what follows next is that they still wear their robes and go back to Court the very next day. There are some days where we would have enlightened the Court in an efficient manner and been applauded for that as well; many have experienced all of this. It is an essential requirement that women possess emotional intelligence and strength to overcome any kind of suppression and discouragement. There are some discomforts for women in this profession, and there is no denial about that. However, keeping that aside, the financial hurdles, the setting up of a practice, the task of building a client base and making a team of lawyers are the very same parameters for women and men, there can be no disparity here without a second thought. The question is are women lawyers willing to go that extra mile and embrace such challenges?
Apart from the rigorous efforts and the fair share of struggles to sustain, women in this profession have not been discriminated in any manner only because of their gender. And neither are their opportunities thwarted., It is an admitted fact that many have savored the best this profession has to offer to women at a very young age, and achieving an independent practice within the realm of their resources with the very same challenges on par with any other professional. Women are advised to opt for partnerships and some women go bold by shouldering an office all by themselves either ways there is no rudiment or a strict jacket formula to succeed in litigation. Everyone has an opinion about everything but the ultimate truth is that only the concerned person can know what is their caliber and what they need, the rest is absolutely irrelevant. The competency of women lawyers cannot be totaled in surmises. The answer to this if pondered deeply will make many women wonder that maybe it is themselves who are coming in the way of breaking the stereotype and not the stereotype itself. I recently came across a statement of Justice Chandrachud where he remarked that the advent of virtual Courts after the pandemic brokeout has increased the productivity of young women lawyers. This reflects the fact that there is room for progress.
The patriarchal set up may be orchestrated in such a way that women do face hurdles in general, but is not fair for us to also admit that women are breaking free through all impediments? Have we not had occasions where we have seen the Courts pass pathbreaking verdicts favoring women? And it is evident that male judges have played a significant role. If we could go back in time, 20 years ago, we wouldn't have found many women opting for law as a profession, but today with the flourishing law schools around, we see women in equal ratio or even more in every classroom. These women are progressing delightfully, where they have the luxury to travel to different cities to participate in coveted moot competitions emerging as winners and acquiring esteemed internships. Some women lawyers rove towards the corporate world and are doing wonders; however, still fewer in number.
What happens to these women? Where do they go? It is prudent for us to understand that if such women had the liberty and opportunities to be empowered by virtue of such educational qualification, then isn't it just to say that women have to wriggle through all challenges with all their dynamism to taste the best that this profession has to offer. And all that is required is the sustenance, which this profession demands inconsequential of the gender. It is unfortunate that even women hailing from privileged backgrounds are not ready to take the plunge.
Also, reiterating what Justice Chandrachud has said, the virtual courts have indeed opened the flood gates for many women to come conquer and proportionate the ratio. As the virtual courts have cut down the long working hours, which was the biggest obstacle of women to balance family and work, now we are just a click away from attending any Court hearing or a meeting from wherever we are. It is time that women start benefitting from such backhanded blessings in disguise to make the best out of it. Also, women of today have access to many shortcuts and resources with the modern technology that has come into existence which was not available before to many of our seniors. Further with the advent of technology most clients interact and finalize important issues through the virtual mode which minimizes many unnecessary meetings. The e-filing system has also turned out to be a boon in many ways wherein documents are shared over emails and all that is required is a good working laptop which seems startling but true.
To conclude, we cannot change the centuries old domestic structures but are in the metamorphosis of bringing in the revolution we want to see. Fortune always favours the brave; sometimes it is only about the risks that we are willing to take and bringing in the difference that we want by beginning to sustain here despite all odds, brickbats and excuses. It's high time that some myths are busted. I have said this many times and will still say "a woman is defenseless until her nail polish is dry". The next time if someone asks a female lawyer for some good news, the answer could also be 'rocking, rolling, and running an office'.
The author is an Advocate at Madras High Court. Views are personal.