Fewer women lawyers are renewing their practising certificates when they reach seven to 12 years of legal practice, the Law Society has found.
In 2013, 56 per cent of this "middle category" did not renew their certificates but so far this year, some 66 per cent have failed to do so.
Law Society president Thio Shen Yi urged women lawyers not to leave the profession altogether but to scale back on their work.
Writing in the current issue of the society's Law Gazette, he said: "While no formal survey has been attempted, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a significant number of women lawyers find the pressures of the profession incompatible with the societal pressures and expectations vis-a-vis their roles as wives, daughters and mothers; and therefore suffer a higher attrition rate than men."
Overall, women formed 43 per cent of practising lawyers or 2,195 out of 5,085 as at September.
"We must accept there is an issue," said Mr Thio, pointing to the many pressures that women lawyers face.
" Building a fulfilling and sustainable career in law is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Pacing is important. I'd say slow down if you have to, but don't get off the track. The need for a more balanced, less onerous and more controllable scope of work may only be for a season."
Several women lawyers shared Mr Thio's concerns.
Firms like Rodyk & Davidson and WongPartnership, for instance, have flexi-time and other arrangements to help women lawyers when they become mothers.
"Our partners can step off the equity track and convert to a salaried partner during the formative years of their children's lives," said Rodyk & Davidson partner Valerie Ong. "When things at home are settled and babies grown up, they can opt back onto the escalator.
"The demands of juggling family and career are not peculiar to the legal industry, but perhaps the challenges are more intense for practising women lawyers. It is eminently possible to build a career and bring up a loving family. Women just have to be reminded that there is no need to score full marks in both."
WongPartnership joint managing partner Rachel Eng said its award-winning policies for workplace diversity have created "a conducive culture for our talents to thrive". "Our firm has virtual parity at all levels between male and female lawyers, from legal associates, through salaried partners (which are the critical years when many women may otherwise leave the practice), all the way to the most senior partners. In fact, our Executive Committee comprises three women and four men."
It is understood that not all women who do not renew their practising certificates leave the profession. Some opt to become in-house counsel or join the legal service.
Veteran lawyer Malathi Das and current president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations also wrote in the Law Gazette: "There is good news too. Women have more opportunities than ever before in the legal profession. As the number of women lawyers increases, women will undoubtedly influence the industry's culture towards better work-life balance."
This article was first published on November 1, 2015.
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