Paweł Rochowicz’s piece entitled “Thirty Percent Women Power” has raised many eyebrows here at GESSEL, the law firm of which I am the founder – to the point where I consider the present polemic to be nothing less than necessary. Admittedly slightly delayed – in our legal minds, the recent events concerning the dereform of the Polish Supreme Court tended to take precedence over all else – but necessary nonetheless.

GESSEL may not be in the top ten of the Rzeczpospolita law firm ranking to which Mr Rochowicz looks for justification of his opinions. We do, however, have more than 60 lawyers in a combined workforce of over 100, so I dare say that we meet the criteria which he adopted. I might also add that I am a woman as well as a practicing lawyer and a legal scholar, so I would consider myself competent to weigh in, generally, on issues of gender equality and, specifically, on the way of regarding the world and the processes affecting it posited by Mr Rochowicz in his article.

I find Mr Rochowicz’s opinions to be a shocking throwback to times which, one would have hoped, we have left behind us by now. The fact that women are under-represented at the top of the legal profession is undisputed. But, as Mr Rochowicz seems to think, it is women who are to blame for this state of affairs: in his eyes, women are unwilling to assume positions of responsibility, lack the physical constitution to pursue hard-nosed negotiations from dawn to dusk and onwards into the night (try telling this to the hundreds of female lawyers who keep the legal services market going as a 24/7 operation, or to their female assistants who step in at all times of day and night to supplement, edit, and organise reams of documents after the most recent round of negotiations has ended !), and are susceptible to a misty-eyed oversensitivity to human suffering (here, Mr Rochowicz has really outdone himself – clearly, his world makes no accommodation for female nurses and doctors or, to confine myself to my own area of expertise, he is unaware of the number of women judges addressing real-life dramas in family courts).

And, as regards the select few female lawyers whom Mr Rochowicz credits with having the requisite physical and psychological stamina, he sees them thwarted by other women or by the odd plane crash.

And, somewhere in the background of these phenomena, Mr Rochowicz just barely discerns what he graciously terms “the male dictate”.

Arbitration... to take one example

I should probably be thankful to Mr Rochowicz that, at least, he was big-hearted enough to reject the view that women are born with smaller brains. Be that as it may, his argumentation places him firmly in the discourse of the 19th century, as propagated by the likes of Władysław Chomętowski who, in 1871, argued that: “Certain special professions are always, and shall be in the future, the exclusive province of the man. A woman with a PhD in medicine or in law is almost as much of an anomaly as a woman warrior or a woman diplomat” (quote after Prof. Małgorzata Fuszara).

The glibness of this reasoning is pernicious – for women, for the entire equal rights movement and, at the end of the day, for society as a whole. Sure enough, there are some women who could not care less about having a stellar career – just like some men. Specific individuals within the female population, as well as among males, are very sensitive or very thick-skinned. And there are women who are mean-spirited harridans – just like there are men who, despite whatever good will you are willing to apply, are simply jerks.

Contrary to what Mr Rochowicz would have us believe, however, this is not the reason why women are under-represented among lawyers. The real reason is more about the societal system in which discrimination of women has become entrenched over long centuries. In the 20th century, this system began slowly changing for the better, and our day and age has seen an acceleration of change also in this regard. This change is fuelled by the efforts – from grand projects to simple everyday actions – of open-minded people who understand that, if women and men are to enjoy true equality in the professional sphere, change is called for at the organisational and conceptual levels.

At this point, I would cite the example of arbitration – a legal discipline which, historically, was regarded as very much a man’s thing. The first battles for equal opportunities were fought by women. ArbitralWomen, for long years the only organisation working for gender equality in this field, actually created an annual prize for men who worked for the benefit of their female colleagues, and strove to bring women into institutions and organisations. All female practitioners of arbitration owe a debt to Miréze Philippe and to Louise Barrington, ArbitralWomen’s founders.

It is initiatives such as this which led the largest international arbitration institution -  the ICC Court in Paris, to adopt gender equality as one of the priorities in staffing its bodies and in appointing arbitrators – certainly during the tenure of Alexis Mourre, its president. Mr Mourre instituted a number of real measures thanks to which parity between the sexes has been achieved among ICC arbitrators. This is no small change from the period of 1980-2002, when the participation of women in work of the ICC Arbitration Court did not exceed 4% (please see the ICC Dispute Resolution Bulletin, 2017/3). This one example speaks volumes about the sheer preposterousness of the position that women won’t, can’t, couldn’t or are too scared to try.

The above is but a small aspect of a greater shift making itself felt in various realms of the legal profession. In this context, I admit that I am at a loss as to how Mr Rochowicz may have arrived at his conclusions – especially if I consider that, in the very same issue of Rzeczpospolita, he published another article, “Women make waves in a man’s world” (published in the online edition of 14 July 2018 under the changed title “Unequal requirements for women and men in leadership positions at law firms”).

Let’s skip the “quasi”, please

In the latter piece, Mr Rochowicz holds forth about how women find their professional growth impeded by a glass ceiling – bulletproof glass, no less. So far, so good; I fully agree with this view, but I fail to see why Mr Rochowicz then explains this state of affairs in terms of feminine weakness ?  In one article, Mr Rochowicz almost commiserates with women for having to make their way through a system which is rigged against them; in the other, but a few pages apart, he doesn’t as much as mention the system, concentrating instead on what he sees as the myriad physical and mental deficiencies of female lawyers.

I can’t help but wonder, wouldn’t Mr Rochowicz be better off if he were to distil his views into a single, cohesive piece ?  As it is, he comes across either as mildly schizophrenic or as a cynical operator of the classic uni sacrificio, ut prosit, alteri, ne noceat school, a maxim rendered in Polish folk wisdom as “a candle for God, some incense for the Devil”.

If I were to suggest a way forward, and perhaps solve Mr Rochowicz’s conundrum for him, I admit to thinking of myself as something of a she-devil. Astute, confident and – the blasphemy of it ! – founder of a successful business. I regret to note that the candle in Rochowicz’s church seems to be flickering for men – not for real men, alas, but for the puny chauvinists clinging to fragile pretentions of male superiority as a last defence in a world they can’t keep up with and, increasingly, can’t understand.

To give credit where credit is due, the subject so maladroitly broached by Mr Rochowicz in the pages of Rzeczpospolita is a very important one and merits further exploration. In this spirit, I urge Mr Rochowicz and the Rzeczpospolita editors to keep at it – preferably by organising a broader debate open to diverse views. In this way, we might hope to actually analyse the problem in the interests of actual change; quasi-arguments swathed in yesteryear’s stereotypes won’t suffice. Not any more.


*Rzeczpospolita, 10 July 2018; internet edition of 14 July 2018 under the changed title “Women Lead Law Firms More Seldom Than Men”