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from associate to partner - the experience of women in law

PHH Rechtsanwälte has been a partner of the female factor for nearly two years now. From having one of the youngest female managing partners at a law firm in Austria to their progressive leadership models and family-friendly policies, they are continuing to lead by example and paving the way to gender parity in the law industry.

We had a chat with Stefanie and Theresa at PHH Rechtsanwälte to get a peek into their experience at PHH working on different levels, and the experience of women in the world of law at large.

The following questions are answered by Theresa Karall, Associate at PHH Rechtsanwälte.

Q1: Women are outnumbering men in law school for the last few years. What do you think is drawing more women to the law industry?

A: “The law industry has changed in the last couple of years, and you see more young women are becoming team leaders and partners in law firms and other law-related businesses, which then act as mentors and coaches for other women that are in law or studying law.

“Having more female examples definitely rubs off on the mindset of other women in law, as it did on me. I also feel like the mindset of law firms and other law-related businesses is going in a direction where there is more room for individual ideas and development – on every work level. Flexible working conditions are also becoming a norm, whether its in terms of time or location. While it can vary among different people, these were some of the reasons, among many others, that made the law industry more attractive to me.”

Q2: Do you believe female lawyers are held to a different standard compared to their male counterparts?

A: “From my experience as an associate –at PHH and every other law firm I have worked for – I have not got the feeling that I was held to a different standard compared to my male counterparts (associates). Of course, I know not everyone gets a positive and open environment to work in like I did. Although, I do have the feeling that different standards for men and women become more and more striking as one climbs the career ladder and deals with more responsibilities and obligations, whether they are of a professional or private nature. So, I’m curious to see what the future will bring.”

Q3: What kind of stereotypes have you come across against women in law? How did you deal with them personally?

A: “To name a few, I got to hear that a women in law are less of team players than their male counterparts, or that they are forcefully dominant or uptight, or that they cannot work with other women in law, and that working as a female lawyer is not compatible with having a family or a private life.

“Personally, I don’t care about these stereotypes. I believe that everyone in the working world has the right to shape their own style and way of doing things and everyone needs to become aware of their own unconscious biases.”

Q4: PHH Rechtsanwälte aims to have a 50-50 gender ratio at all levels. How do you see these efforts play out in practice?

A: “As an associate and soon-to-be lawyer, it is great to see that the law firm I am working at is providing equal opportunities for every employee. In my experience, they are a young and open law firm, where diverse teams working in different areas of law have the chance to work together. I have the feeling that PHH Rechtsanwälte gives every employee the chance to develop professionally and personally. These are steps in the right direction.”

Q5: What advice do you have for aspiring female lawyers?

A: “Since I’m not a lawyer yet, but an associate, I can only speak from this point of view. My best advice, which I also try to live by, is to be brave, curious and eager in every new situation and to not give up, even if some challenges may seem hard to handle at first. With every challenge, we learn new things and make new experiences. And this is the same for everybody, so we are all in the same boat – so share your experiences with others and connect.”

The following questions are answered by Stefanie Werinos, Partner at PHH Rechtsanwälte.

Q1: How did you prepare yourself for a leadership role in such a male-dominated industry? What leadership traits have you found to be essential in a profession like yours?

A: “To be honest, I didn’t feel like I needed to have a special preparation. I have been in this male-dominated industry since the time I was a trainee, and throughout my journey, I have learned a lot from all the different leaders I had, including leadership skills.

“My way of leading the firm and my team has become more and more distinct over the last few years. Good and clear communication, setting clear goals and listening to the team are indispensable qualities for me, which I try to live and optimise every single day.”

Q2: Do you believe female leaders in law are held up to a different standard compared to their male counterparts?

A: “I don’t think women are held up to a different standard, but I do think that when the topic of family becomes relevant, women simply have to work even more efficiently than male colleagues because of their double work-load consisting of job and family, as its usually women that tend to be the primary caregivers for children.”

Q3: PHH Rechtsanwälte aims to have a 50-50 gender ratio at all levels. How are you working towards this ratio?

A: “We try to affirm at all levels that our female employees and lawyers do not have a glass ceiling in the firm and can achieve anything. Of course, it also takes a certain amount of courage and commitment to take this step as a woman. We try to take away the ‘fear’ of the challenge as best we can.

“However, the other conditions at work also have to fit, which for me includes flexible working hours, observing typical time windows in which women with families are difficult to reach (e.g. before school / kindergarten or in the early evening) and the possibility of working from home.”

Q4: What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders in the law industry?

A: “Don't give up, even if it gets very difficult sometimes and the job demands everything of you. Keep a cool head and pursue your own goal and don't let anyone make you insecure about your competence and professional appearance!”

about our partner

PHH Rechtsanwälte is one of Austria's leading law firms. They recently received the "Women in Law 21st Century Rechtsanwaltskanzlei" award, which recognizes law firms that promote the use of paternity leave and parental leave by their male associates and develop similar concepts for self-employed persons. Check out their services and available jobs here.


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