City snubs scheme for women

Cherie Booth QC's Opportunity Now charter for women is being snubbed by City law firms.

While most of Britain's major companies have signed up to the Opportunity Now charter, including the five big accountancy firms, not one City law firm has done so.

Opportunity Now has approached several major law firms. They all refused to join the campaign.

In joining the scheme a firm would have to make a public commitment to breaking down barriers to women, including lack of childcare and long hours cultures.

The revelation comes at an embarrassing time for firms which claim they are striving to make working conditions more amenable to female lawyers.

Only two law firms have signed up: 20-partner Watson Burton in Newcastle and four-partner Bradford practice David Yablon.

Cherie Booth QC is a patron of the organisation and has pledged to help bring law firms on board.

Campaign chief Melanie Allison says: “We have been to see a number of law firms but to no effect while no law firms bothered to contact us.”

Allison adds barristers' chambers are just as unready for the scheme.

“I went to visit a barristers' chambers which was supposed to be one of the most enlightened.

“I spoke to the head of chambers. His attitude was that his chambers already attracted the best people because of its reputation, so he did not have to improve working conditions,” she says.

City firms, says Allison, claim they cannot join because clients demand total commitment. Flexible working is not compatible.

She points to the example of accountants Deloitte & Touche which offers clients the choice of either the best person for the job, who may work only three afternoons a week in the office but is available by phone outside those hours, or the next best person who is always available.

Watson Burton's head of corporate Gillian Hall says: “My clients know I am available for them when it's important. They have access to my home phone and fax. They are mature people and know when something is important. It is just a question of educating clients.”