University of Leicester
2024AslamFPhD.pdf (1.35 MB)

Why do Women Lawyers in Hong Kong Leave Global Law Firms? An investigation into the factors that affect and influence women lawyers in Hong Kong to leave global law firm practice.

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posted on 2024-04-18, 12:47 authored by Farzana Aslam

“Despite the rapid change in the gender composition of the legal profession the seeds of invidiousness continue to cling to the feminine, particularly in relation to authoritative positions.”

(Margaret Thornton, 2020: 1474)

Over the past few decades, women have made remarkable in-roads into the previously male-dominated domain of the legal profession. In many jurisdictions, women now outrank men in the numbers that qualify for entry into law school, leading to what has been described as the “feminization” of the legal profession (Michelson, 2013). Despite this entry-level success, research consistently shows that women remain dramatically underrepresented at senior leadership levels (McKinsey, 2017; Rikleen, 2013, 2015; Sommerlad, 2010; Ornstein, 2010).

Hong Kong is no exception in this regard. Around 70% of law school entrants are women. The demise in the numbers of women that remain within the legal profession begins almost immediately after graduation. As of December 2022, the gender split of trainee solicitors is 63% women: 27% men, however when it comes to partnership, the gender ratio shifts dramatically to 30% women: 70% men. In 2002, when records of the gender split first began, the ratio was 22% women: 78% men. Representation of women in the partnership ranks has increased at a snail’s pace for two decades. Arguably, the disparity has remained relatively constant given that over the same period there has been an increase in the percentage of women who represent law school entrants, suggesting that little, if any, progress has been made towards achieving gender equality within the senior and most influential ranks of the legal profession. While the increasing numbers of women that enter the solicitors’ profession in Hong Kong suggest that barriers to entry may have been all but eliminated, the disproportionately low numbers of women remaining in private practice long enough to rise to senior levels suggest that the integration of women into the profession has not yet been achieved.

The purpose of this study was to examine one of the factors that contributes to the continuing disparity in numbers among the Partnership ranks, namely attrition, often referred to as the ‘leaky pipeline’ (Alper, 1993). To gain a better understanding of why women leave private practice, this study sought to gain insight into this phenomenon from the perspective of those who have left private practice.

Whilst the data was derived from analysing the experiences of individual women lawyers, it was collected, analysed, and interpreted with the epistemological approach that individual women’s experiences are connected to macro issues that lie within law firms as organisations and society generally. In the case of this study, the societal context of Hong Kong. The structural and contextual orientation towards the research problem is underpinned by a theoretical foundation based on post-feminism and critical realism with a structural orientation that emphasises the need to locate problems and hence solutions in social structures, not individuals. Accordingly, the aim of the research was not to identify ways to ‘fix the women’ but to find ways to ‘fix the system’ that perpetuates underrepresentation of women in the higher ranks of the profession.



William Glynne; Anne-Marie Greene

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Business

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • DSocSci



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