The absence of flexible working is one of the biggest barriers to women becoming partners in law firms, says a prominent in-house lawyer who made the switch from private practice.

Funke Abimbola (pictured), UK managing counsel at pharmaceutical company Roche, was commenting on research from the Black Solicitors Network’s Diversity League Table, which indicated that there are daunting barriers to female associates becoming partners. The average percentage of female associates in firms is 56%, while the average percentage of female partners is just 27%.

‘My experience has been that too many firms pay lip service to having a flexible working policy yet do not really have a firm-wide culture that truly embraces this,’ she said.

‘It is one thing to say you have a flexible working policy but quite another to have a culture that allows this to happen without there being a stigma attached to, for example, future promotion prospects.’

This becomes most problematic when female solicitors have children and want to balance home and work life, Abimbola added.

Consequently, many women opt to move in-house. Abimbola moved to Roche in 2012 partly for that reason. ‘When I consider my own peer group of solicitor colleagues, all of them without exception are now working in-house and made that move primarily for a better work-life balance; to work more closely with the business; and to get away from billable targets,’ she said.

Reducing billable targets for women going into and coming out of maternity leave, having meetings at more sympathetic times to accommodate childcare arrangements and supporting female solicitors through mentoring programmes would also help redress the imbalance, she said.