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Demand for women lawyers at an all-time high with India Inc trying to better diversity ratio
October, 06th 2015

Srishti Ojha recounts the days when she and her female colleagues faced what she called "credibility theft".

During transactions and negotiations, a male colleague would put forward the same point that they had made and walk away with the credit.

Things have changed now, says the 37-year-old founder of Verist Law. She is advising Mumbai-based glass maker Borosil for a share buyback and in the past had worked with MCX-SX when it raised funds.

Demand for women lawyers is at an all-time high now, with both law firms and other companies looking to hire more of them.

This year until now, 51 out of 107 experienced lawyers hired by companies were women, a 10 per cent increase from the year-earlier period. The demand is especially high for women lawyers with 4-15 years of experience. While companies' focus on improving diversity ratio is one of the main reasons driving the demand for women lawyers, recruiters cite disparity in pay as another.

The average pay rise for women was 26 per cent when they changed firms, compared with 36.25 per cent for their male counterparts, according to Vahura, a recruitment firm that specialises in legal talent.

According Vahura, urgent mandates for lawyers is coming in from financial services companies, drug makers and venture capital funds.They want lawyers to handle changes in regulatory policies, mergers and acquisitions and work around legalities of funds getting pumped into ecommerce firms.

"Corporates have been given the mandate to hire more woman law yers to meet their diversity ratio and law firms have become the poaching grounds," said Balanand Menon, headconsulting at Vahura. Large corporates are seeing the shift too. "The majority of the available talent pool in the legal sector comprises women. I find them sharp, sincere, hardworking and engaged," said Bharat Vasani, group t general counsel at Tata Sons.

The conglomerate has 330 lawyers across its companies and 110 of them t are women. At Tata Sons, men are a i minority as six out of the nine lawi yers are women.

These numbers are a result of the group's efforts to encourage more t woman lawyers with flexi-timings, work from home (especially for women with new-born babies) facilities, and car drop during late hours, over the past five to six years.

Today, half the women lawyers are in senior positions, across the group legal team and various group companies. For many, the support system and mentorship make all the difference. Neerja Venkataraman, the 37year-old legal counsel-global services for APAC at SunEdison, wishes she had more women mentors when she started her career in 2001.

She took a sabbatical between 2004 and 2007 and says her move back to work took a while and was possible because her parents were there to help her raise her child. With more women mentors in the profession now, it is easier to make such transitions now.

According to Chambers & Partners, which ranks lawyers and law firms, there is a steady rise in woman listing in India - from 12.5 per cent in 2010 to 17.34 per cent in 2015. "It is this small change culminating year-by-year which may have contributed to the seismic change that you see today," said Shi-Ning Koay, editor-Chambers Asia-Pacific.

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