Portsmouth Law School

Past Events

Innovations: Legal Practice - work-life balance; challenges, differences and diversities

  • Date: 31 October 2014

The School of Law at the University of Portsmouth is pleased to host the first in its three-year ‘Innovations’ series of keynote lectures and associated symposia, which will showcase pioneering internationally-excellent research work.

Exploring pressing issues in work-life balance, career progression, and diversity in legal practice, with implications for occupations other than law, this symposium comprises presentations by leading researchers around the world.

Speakers & Abstracts

Keynote: Professor Margaret Thornton, Australian National University (ANU), Australia

Work/Life or Work/Work? Corporate Legal Practice in the 21st Century

This keynote presentation addresses the dilemma arising from pressure for flexible work in legal practice in light of the neo-liberal turn that emphasises profit maximization and the long-hours culture. The paper will pay particular attention to the gender ramifications of the dilemma just as the tipping point has been reached with women comprising 50 per cent of legal practitioners.

Margaret Thorntonis Professor of Law and ANU Public Policy Fellow at the Australian National University. She has degrees from Sydney, UNSW and Yale, and has been admitted as a Barrister. She has published extensively on issues relating to feminist legal theory, discrimination, legal education and the legal profession, including the only book-length study of women and the legal profession in Australia: Dissonance and Distrust (Oxford, 1996; also published in Chinese by the Law Press, Beijing, 2001). Her current funded research ‘Balancing Law and Life’ entails a study of corporate law firms. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.

Professor Ronit Dinovitzer, University of Toronto, Canada

Early Legal Careers in Comparative Context: Evidence from Canada and the US

This presentation explores early careers by drawing on nationally representative surveys of lawyers' early careers in Canada and the United States. It will examine the sorting of lawyers in sectors and settings, and to the mechanisms that are key to understanding this process. Prior research has pointed to the importance of law school credentials, race, gender, and social class, which continue to be important lines of demarcation. The comparative lens provides the opportunity to better understand the ways in which these factors are contingent on national context, which in turn shapes the symbolic and cultural value of the forms of capital that can provide access to more prestigious, powerful and remunerative positions in the legal profession.

Ronit Dinovitzer is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, where she is cross-appointed to the Institute for Management and Innovation. She is also a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago, where she is Co-Director of the Research Group on Legal Diversity, and she is an Affiliated Faculty in Harvard’s Program on the Legal Profession. As a sociologist of the professions her research focuses on the social organization of lawyers, the role of labour markets, and the effects of culture on professional work. Recent projects include the ‘After the JD’ study, the first national longitudinal study of law graduates in the US, the ‘Law and Beyond Study’, the first national study of law graduates in Canada, and a Canadian study on ‘Ethics, the Professional Service Firm and Corporate Governance’ (with Hugh and Sally Gunz).

Professor Hilary Sommerlad, University of Birmingham, UK

Continuity and Change in the Legal Profession in England and Wales

The past thirty years have transformed the English and Welsh legal profession from a pre-capitalist craft occupation, which was self-regulated through the mechanism of collegiality and in which, in the solicitors’ branch, every practitioner could in theory become a partner, into a capitalist service industry in which the majority of lawyers are employees. Linked to this transformation is the dramatic expansion and diversification of the demographic profile of the law student body.  As a result, since 1989 female trainee lawyers have outnumbered males, and the proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) trainees has risen significantly in the last decade. Yet the upper echelons and most profitable parts of the profession remain dominated by white, generally upper-middle class, males, while female and BAME lawyers are overwhelmingly concentrated in the more impoverished sectors of the profession and, in the corporate sector, as ‘technicians’. This presentation will reflect on the conditions which sustain this deeply gendered, ‘raced’ and classed segmentation, and the different obstacles these pose to different groups.  Exploring the neo-liberal economic policies and logic which have transformed the profession, the presentation will also examine, with reference to a series of empirical studies, symbiotic discourses and practices drawn from older rationalities.

Professor Sommerlad is Director of Research, Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER) at the University of Birmingham.  She is Articles Editor of Legal Ethics, serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Law and Society and the International Journal of the Legal Profession, and is a member of several international research groups.  Her research interests include the cultural practices of the professional workplace and diversity in the legal profession. Her extensive writing on these topics includes the first full length book on women solicitors in England and Wales, a report into the barriers to diversity in the legal profession (commissioned by the Legal Services Board), a co-authored book: The Futures of Legal Education and the Legal Profession, Hart (2014), and a chapter (with Louise Ashley)‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ in the forthcomingOxford Handbook of Professional Service Firms.

Professor Eli Wald, University of Denver, USA (by videolink)

Gender and Racial Capital

While meritocracy is the official language of lawyers, gender and racial identity have long been implicitly commodified by white males and white legal institutions.  As the use of gender and racial identity and capital grows increasingly more explicit, it brings to the forefront complex questions about the interplay of merit and personal identity.  The paper explores the ways in which lawyers and law firms employ, exchange and value gender and racial identity and capital in the practice of law. 

Eli Wald is the Charles W. Delaney Jr. Professor of Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  A legal ethics and legal profession scholar, Wald has written on topics such as increased lawyer mobility, attorney-client communications, the nationalization and globalization of law practice, and the structure and organization of law firms.  His current research explores the interplay of equality, diversity, implicit bias and discrimination in the legal profession.  Wald’s work has appeared in leading journals such as the Stanford, Fordham, Wisconsin and University of Colorado law reviews, and the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics.


Professor Richard Collier, Newcastle University, UK

Richard Collier is Professor of Law and Social Theory, Newcastle Law School. Widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of law, men and masculinity, he is author of, inter alia, ‘”Love law, love life”: neoliberalism, wellbeing and gender in the legal profession – the case of law school’ (2014) Legal Ethics. 

Coordinating Team  

Barry Hough

Dermot Feenan (Principal Lead)

James Hand

Anne Stoneham


This event is free.

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