Study title
Gendered Globalization of the Legal Professions: Comparing the Early-Stage Careers of Lawyers in Switzerland, France, Germany and the U.S.
Ref study 11866
Study language English
Contributing institutions
  • Globalization
  • Work-family balance
  • Gender equality
  • Careers
  • Professions
  • Inequalities
  • Lawyers
  • Comparative sociology
  • Sociology of the profession
May 2015 - April 2018
Geographical space
Switzerland, France, Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Germany
  • France
In Western European countries and in North America, the legal profession is witnessing two sweeping trends: globalization and feminization. Indeed, U.S. “mega law firms” have become increasingly important agents in European legal markets, particularly as far as the market of legal advice for corporate clients is concerned. At the same time, lawyers in Europe are increasingly women: each new generation bringing more women graduating from law schools and practicing law in various institutional settings. Although some research has explored both phenomena separately, the intersection of these two processes has not been investigated so far: we know very little on the effects of globalization on the gendered careers of lawyers in different national contexts.
This research seeks to analyze how globalization is affecting women’s legal careers at a moment when they constitute an increasing share of the population of lawyers. In particular we expect to document in different national contexts how globalization is changing the rules of the game for lawyers in terms of their social capital, education, and legal training; how it is restructuring the organization of legal practice and changing the rhythm and trajectories of men and women’s careers. We also expect to document whether gender inequalities in the legal professions are eroding or not, in a context of massive entry of women in the legal markets. We hypothesize that three factors might contribute to explain cross-national variations with respect to male and female lawyer’s careers: the impact of globalization on the organization of the legal profession; the extent to which feminization has affected all corners of the profession; and the national gender regime.To test the validity of these hypotheses, our research adopts a mixed-methods and comparative approach.
The selection of our three case studies - Switzerland, France and Germany - has been designed to introduce variations in the factors that, we claim, affect the persistence or erosion of gender inequalities in legal professions. To document these changes, we intend to conduct a large-scale survey addressed to men and women who have entered legal practice in 1999-2000 and 2008-2009 (surveys will be sent to about 900 young lawyers in each cohort in each of the three countries). We propose to analyze the early stages of the careers of young Swiss lawyers in Zurich and Geneva, which we will compare to the careers of young lawyers at similar career stages in Paris and Frankfurt. The survey focuses on young lawyers prior to and during early stages of family formation, and on work-life balance decisions. The survey data will be complemented by face-to-face interviews (n=75) to collect thicker sociological data and test our hypotheses deriving from the quantitative data. Our study will profoundly impact the study of globalization and feminization processes in high-skilled professions, and for that reason, it will be very valuable to not only ‘law and society’ scholars, but also to sociologists of professions, as well as scholars of ‘gender and globalization’. Furthermore, it is likely to spur intense debate in the legal profession in each country about two major issues. The first one is legal education: our study of how globalization impact young lawyers’ careers is likely to spur debates about legal education in each country and how it might or should be reform to better prepare lawyers to the new type of legal practice which are emerging. Second, since legal practice is one of the high-skilled professions most dramatically afflicted by a glass ceiling preventing women to access partnership in big firms, as well as a high rate of attrition of women leaving their profession after a few years of practice, our study will help understanding how these mechanisms unfold for new generations of lawyers and what are the alternatives. Understanding which social mechanisms explain why a high number of highly performing women decide to leave their job despite years of investment in their human capital is one of the most important pressing social issues today, and it is critical to study how these mechanisms operate now, before this new generation of young women lawyers disappears from the profession.
Methods (description)
Quantitative survey
qualitative interviews
Methods (instruments)
  • Analysis of content
Replicated study No
Financed by
Ethical approval No
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates) SNSF
Date created 16.12.2014
Date modified 09.01.2019
Start - End date 01.05.2015 - 30.09.2019