Category Archives: The Employment Relationship

The key to a solicitor’s career success? Creating connections

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By Juliet Kele, Doctoral Student and Teaching Fellow, WERD

Employment lawyers regularly counsel and advise both employers and employees on a diverse matter of workplace related issues, but do they ever reflect upon the employment relationship, and inclusive working practices within their own firms? Historically, the legal profession has been perceived as an ‘old boys club’ – and can still be argued as such in modern times. The senior positions in most law firms are filled with middle-aged, white men (‘male, pale and stale’). These issues have animated my research in aiming to discover whether a smaller law firm size has a favourable impact upon the career progression of female and ethnic-minority lawyers.

The findings of this research reveal that while smaller law firms were thought to have a more supportive culture than larger firms – in terms of implementing flexible-working initiatives and being ‘family-friendly’ employers – lawyers with high levels of social capital were looked upon more favourably at each career progression round.

Using interviews conducted within Yorkshire small and medium-sized legal practices (firms with fewer than 250 employees), my research considers how career progression is experienced by a diverse range of employees and the factors perceived to influence career progression in this context. My analysis shows that a crucial factor perceived as having a positive effect upon career progression – regardless of the smaller firm size – was that of having high levels of social capital: favourable connections and networks.

Some individuals acknowledged their ‘luck’ of good connections – for example, paralegals being able to move companies with their supervisors – and individuals gaining their current position through connections or recommendations. Moreover, it was felt that in smaller law firms, competing against fewer colleagues, individuals may be able to foster a closer mentoring and sponsorship relationship with supervisors than in larger businesses. This, in turn, may be beneficial to career advancement as management come to recognise and acknowledge the efforts of their staff.

Part of a solicitor’s work responsibilities is the development of connections and constant networking. These are highly-desirable skills, not only for the business interests of the company but are also for accelerating the speed of career progression. However, my research demonstrates this may be easier for some groups than for others.

While the smaller law firms were considered to have more supportive cultures than larger firms, for female lawyers aspiring to progress their careers, as reported by the Law Society Gazette, one main stumbling block endured: the choice between career and family. The general impression was that there were still ‘fairly limited opportunities’ for progression in law firms for female employees who wished to have families. Due to familial responsibilities, they felt unable to commit to the extensive demands on their time in terms of networking in connection to both servicing existing and generating new clients, often known as ‘rainmaking’.

Female employees admitted that being a woman in the legal profession was ‘difficult’. Although they had invested heavily into their legal education, they still felt that their colleagues expected them to have children. While some female employees thought that they should not have to choose between prioritising family and work, others said that there was still a ‘sacrifice’ to be made for women in the legal profession. Moreover, two female solicitors directly stated that being pregnant was a career obstacle and disadvantage they had experienced.

Similarly, minority ethnic lawyers also had greater levels of commitments outside of work; either relating to religious observations, responsibilities to both their close and extended families and in assisting their wider communities. The legal profession itself was criticised: with long-working hours and frequent late-nights, networking and weekend work, maintaining a work-life balance was challenging – as one respondent said: ‘something’s got to give’. The opportunity cost here is deciding whether to dedicate more time to family life or to career advancement.

Working-fathers also made sacrifices, but they came at more of a personal than career cost. Work-life balance was important to them, as their ‘biggest career driver’ were their new families. Some working-fathers also criticised the legal profession stating it was ‘a younger man’s game’ – they said that their priorities now shifted more towards a family-focus and being at home with their families; rather than rain-making for their employers.

In sum, from my research, these smaller law firms and their workforces recognise the importance assigned by its valuable ‘knowledge workers’ to maintaining a ‘work-life balance’. These legal practices thus awarded more prominence to the implementation of flexible-working practices than larger companies.

This smaller company size was felt by employees – especially those with external commitments – to have a more accommodating organisational culture than larger law firms. Despite this, with importance continuously placed on a long-hours culture, building connections and constant networking, lawyers with the highest social capital levels will make the most advances in their careers. These lawyers continue to be of the ‘male, pale and stale’ variety.

The 6th CERIC Doctoral Conference 2017: ‘The Employment Relationship’

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CERIC Doctoral Students: Marina Boulos, Juliet Kele, Meenaskshi Sarkar and Frederike Scholz.

‘Work’ is a central activity for people for economic reasons as well as a person’s social and psychological well-being. Since work is formalised in an ‘employment relationship’, it is essential to question and comprehend all aspects of this core component of people’s lives. Today the ‘employment relationship’ as understood traditionally appears to be changing at an unprecedented rate. New organisational forms, employment contracts, the rise of the self-employed and the gig economy make it imperative for us to question the traditional paradigms through which we understand the labour market and people’s experiences within it.

Building upon its past successes, the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC) conference organising committee at Leeds University Business School are pleased to announce the theme for the 6th Doctoral Conference: ‘The Employment Relationship’. As in previous years, the CERIC Doctoral Conference offers an inclusive environment for doctoral students at any stage of their PhD to share their research and knowledge with peers, but also academics within CERIC. It offers a great opportunity for doctoral students within the Work and Employment Relations field, but also other areas of social science research, to receive constructive and valuable feedback, and to network with academics that are interested in many aspects of the ‘employment relationship’.

CERIC is pleased to offer a prize for the best presentation, which will be the costs (up to £400) to cover attendance at a leading conference of the student’s choice. There is also a prize of £100 for the best poster presentation.

This year’s conference organising committee consists of four doctoral researchers who focus on different aspects of the ‘employment relationship’.

Workplace Stress: Is Prevention Better Than Cure?

Within her PhD research, Marina Boulos explores what is actually done about stress in the workplace. Who is responsible? How is stress managed? Can it be prevented? With the research project, she is trying to answer these questions via two case studies by interviewing main actors in stress management, as well as their employees. Her study tries to discover who’s considered to be responsible for managing stress, designing, implementing and evaluating stress management interventions in organisations.

Career advancement in small and medium enterprises (SMEs): experiences of a diverse workforce

Juliet Kele is investigating how career progression is structured within small and medium-sized law firms in the Yorkshire region; the factors affecting such progression; and how and whether diversity within the smaller firm workforce is managed. The impetus for this research is that despite the economic importance of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), they remain insufficiently studied regarding diversity issues. Juliet uses intersectionality theory in order to examine gendered practices in the SME context.

British Pakistani taxi drivers: An insight on class, culture and employment habitus.

Meenakshi Sarkar has adopted an ethnographic study nestled within the structure and agency debate. While most academics agree that there exists an ethnic penalty in the British labour market, Pakistanis seem to be paying an additional Muslim penalty and a Pakistani penalty, which pushes them to the bottom of the pile in comparison to other ethnic minorities.  Almost 1 in 4 Pakistani men in the UK drive taxis for a living. Is it a choice or a result of constraints? Meenakshi argues that the intersectionality of class, affiliations, gender, and ethnicity form a habitus (Bourdieu, 1984) which metaphorically forms a mental ‘cage’ which impacts on their their agency. The choice to drive taxis is steeped in years of neglect, discrimination, marginalisation and constraints – both real and perceived – in the labour market.

Disability inequality and the recruitment process: responding to legal and technological developments

Frederike Scholz has adopted an emancipatory research approach that has investigated the experience of disabled jobseekers and the growing use of online recruitment and selection practices within the UK. Online recruitment and selection practices can be viewed as inequality regimes that are built on the principle of ‘ableness’, which discount individuals who are not seen as ‘ideal’ because of impairment. In order to understand all aspects of the employment relationship, Frederike has also investigated organisations’ knowledge about the discriminatory impact of online recruitment tools.

The deadline for abstract submission of up to 300 words is Friday, 14th April, 2017

(Notification of acceptance will be sent by Tuesday 18th April).

The abstract submission can be made via email – cericphd@leeds.ac.uk

To register please go to: http://business.leeds.ac.uk/about-us/article/2017-centre-for-employment-relations-innovation-and-change-ceric-doctoral-conference/

Marina, Juliet, Meenakshi, Frederike and the CERIC team look forward to welcoming you on Wednesday 10th May.

For further information, please contact The CERIC team at cericphd@leeds.ac.uk