Sunday, March 25, 2018

Building a Diverse Legal Profession in the Arab Gulf

Women and the Law Conference
March 22, 2018
Qatar University College of Law

When I graduated from law school in 1982, only 8 percent of all lawyers in the U.S. were women. Even today, less than 17 percent of all law partners are women, a number that has been sadly durable for at least a decade. I have practiced law for over 36 years, and yet the need continues to discuss gender bias in the profession and paths to success for women lawyers.

The March 22 conference obviously filled that need for women lawyers practicing in the Arab Gulf. Over 160 registered for the event. Over 110 women participated.   
The discussion coming out of the Women and Law Conference sponsored by Qatar University (QU) College of Law expressed concerns by both expats and Qatari women lawyers about the barriers women face to full participation in the opportunities offered by the legal profession. At the same time, the discussion showed a refreshing commitment, expressed by a number of Qatari law students, to self-reliance and self-confidence in dealing with explicit and implicit bias in the workplace.

Twenty-five women participated as moderators, presenters, or panelists. This women-only event kicked off with a welcoming address from Prof. Mariam Al-Maaeed, the Vice President for Research & Graduate Studies at QU. Next, Asma AlHamadi, a TV presenter at the Al Jazeera Media Network, spoke about women in leadership as the keynote address. Rawda AlThani offered an Arabic-language film, Women in the Law, featuring several female law students.  

The conference organizer, Prof. Melissa Deehring, gave a plenary session presentation, The Landscape of Women in Law in Qatar, focused on current statistics for women lawyers in Qatar. She discussed issues confronting women in the legal profession and strategies for encouraging more women in Qatar to enter the practice of law. Press stories here and here discuss some of her research data, although Prof. Deehring advises she will need to make some corrections to the stories. 

The programming then shifted to panel discussions on the following topics:
  • Moving from Action to Results, discussing training programs in law firms and law departments.
  • The Realities of Gender Bias – Fact or Fiction, discussing the most effective ways for dealing with gender bias.
  • What is Success and How to Attain It, exploring work-life balance and whether women lawyers “can have it all.”
  • More Women Leading in the Courtroom, discussing the under-representation of Qatari women as judges and prosecutors and in other courtroom roles.  
The panel discussions featured a student moderator along with at least two Qatari lawyers. Expat lawyers filled out the three or four-person panels. 

Several panelists reinforced the need for strong training of new lawyers in issue spotting, legal writing, moot court, and other legal skills. They also mentioned the need for young attorneys to understand local law in the context of international practice. Panelists repeatedly mentioned the need for new lawyers to work hard, to show creativity in handling client problems, to listen deeply for a client’s concerns, fears, and interests, and to anchor practice in service to others. Members of the “success” panel urged new female lawyers to shift away from norms of university life and instead focus on a professional image that abandoned “flamingos and feathers.” They also encouraged young women lawyers to show self-confidence by initiating conversations in law firm or department meetings.  

The conference also featured two interactive workshops:
  • Using Grit, and Growth Mindset, to Advance Women in the Law
  • Strategies for Negotiating Salary
The event included two networking opportunities over a coffee break and lunch, which the women attending clearly used to create and reinforce professional relationships.

Conference materials included very detailed biographies of the participants, which I greatly appreciated. They also included three articles:
  • Tari Ellis, et al., Promoting Gender Diversity in the Gulf, McKinsey& Company (Feb. 2015), available here.
  • Katty Kay & Claire Shipman, The Confidence Gap, The Atlantic (May 2014), available here
  • Lauren Stiller Rikleen, Power Play Strategies for Women, Harvard Bus. Rev. (July 2, 2012).
Prof. Deehring plans to publish a white paper summarizing the discussion, questions, and audience comments. When completed, it will appear on the website of the National Priorities Research Program for Grant #9-341-5-047 from the Qatar National Research Fund.
Prof. Deerhing acknowledged several other people for their contributions to the great success of this conference: Sara Ahmed AlMohanadi; Emily Tomczak; Nanyce Hassan Soliman; Allabiba Enad Al-Enazi; and Noora Ahmad ALRomaihi.
One of my male colleagues jokingly said that in the patriarchal Gulf society, we “could have our little conferences” and nothing would change much. Perhaps. But, I remember the environment I faced in 1982, and I know that women lawyers changed the legal profession in the U.S. They can also shape the profession in the Gulf in ways they need and want. 

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