The goal is to have a more diverse and inclusive workplace in order to promote creativity and innovation

Interview with Michelle Barclay, Partner and member of the Executive Committee at CMS GRAU, Peru.

© CMS Grau

Interview with Michelle Barclay, Partner and member of the Executive Committee at CMS GRAU, Peru.

You have worked at a number of major law firms, both in the US and Peru. Do you see any difference in terms of how possible it is for a female lawyer to develop her career in these countries? And if so, what, specifically, makes it harder in one country than in the other?

The US has been dealing with diversity and gender equality issues for many years and that makes a difference to the approach that law firms take with respect to their members during the various stages of their legal career. In most prestigious US law firms: (i) interviews are duly structured to avoid improper and discriminatory questions; (ii) work is assigned without difference between women and men; (iii) firms have clear sexual harassment policies and staff are made aware of these  as soon as they  begin work; and, (iv) if you are talented and work hard you can get into the partnership track. In general, there is a far more conscious approach to diversity and inclusion (including gender equality).

In Latin America, even though this subject has been around for some time, we have only recently become more aware of the inequalities, unfair treatment, lack of inclusion, discrimination etc.  We still need to work very hard on this. That said, in Peru, law firms are already implementing internal policies and/or programs to help promote talent among a diverse and inclusive environment and grant more visibility to women.  

For us, at CMS Grau, the goal is to have a more diverse and inclusive workplace in order to promote creativity and innovation.  At our law firm we have agreed to work on what is, in our opinion, the basis for reaching this goal, namely to create a deep awareness  of these issues among men and women at our organization. Once this is achieved, any policy or regulation is just the consequence of true beliefs, and innovation and creativity will lead us to be a better firm.


Even if we have an ever increasing amount of female lawyers in the world, there has not been a commensurate increase in the number of women at partner level. How do you explain this discrepancy?

In my experience, mid-level female associates face a very tough challenge dealing with family and work. Most of them do not know how to manage this challenge and resign or step out of the partnership track before they ever get close. In other cases, firms exclude them from the partnership track because they cannot comply with the required number of billing hours.  There is work to be done in this regard: on the female associates´ side and the law firms´side.  Our role as partners is to (i) provide tools to young associates to be able to manage such a challenge; (ii) generate acceptance among the male and female partners and have evidence that young women with families can perform extremely well in an inclusive environment; and, (iii) have clear policies and regulations. 


Does your firm have any particular policies aimed at making it easier for women to become partners?

CMS Grau has eight women partners which is a very high number by Latin American standards. For years our firm has dealt with this issue and has successfully been able to retain talent by giving our female lawyers the flexibility to manage their time.  Our firm does not have a fixed rule. Each female lawyer will have a different need, therefore the programs for our female lawyers depend on their particular situation. Moreover, a program that suits a female associate one year, might not suit her the next.


Do you have any official or informal organizations for woman lawyers in Peru, if so can you tell me a bit about what they do?  

In Peru, partners and associates from large and small firms, in-house lawyers, government lawyers, members of the judiciary and universities participate in several activities promoted by the Vance Center Women in the Profession Program (WIP). WIP works by promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession with its local partners in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay. 

Peruvian WIP members have created five committees which cover different transversal matters. At CMS Grau, we encourage every female lawyer to participate in any of the committees and to attend the different conferences and events WIP organizes. These committees and conferences provide an excellent platform for young female lawyers to meet leaders that can help them understand every challenge of our legal professional.

Currently, the committees are (i) “Build the Rules" which seeks to create a “Best Practices” among members; (ii) “We Measure Best Practices”: this committee aims to promote a gender ranking; (iii) “Advance with Purpose”:  which seeks to prepare workshops and networking events ; (iv) “We Learn From Experience”: this committee’s goal is to launch a mentoring program (v) “Earn Visibility”: which promotes expert panels and visibility of women lawyers.


And finally Michelle, you are a partner in a top Peruvian law firm. Any advice for women seeking to follow in your footsteps and reach the highest levels at a corporate law firm?


Have a “growth mind-set”:  We need to focus on being better as women lawyers through development of our skills and not constantly expect validation of the same. Having a growth mind-set allows us to deal with any matter by working hard and focusing on our talents. 


Have confidence in who you are: It is extremely important to know your value. This means, knowing what are your talents are and being very confident about them. Those talents will not disappear.  Having family does not mean that you lose your talents and become less professional.


Don’t be afraid to ask for  what you need.  If you need to get out of the office earlier certain days of the week, by all means ask for that.  We need our colleagues and partners to understand that if we are not in the office, it does not mean we are not working.

Finding a balance and being happy at work will consequently lead to a better performance and this is the way to go. Our duty as partners is to provide such environment in order to retain talent and have more female partners.

Read the full Special Report: Peru: International Firms Reshaping Legal Market

Peru is considered one of the leading emerging markets in the region in terms of economic development and despite the economic slowdown the prospects are better than in neighboring countries. According to the IMF Peru will grow at a faster rate than Chile, Colombia and Mexico. The recently elected president should provide a basis for this notably through several infrastructure projects that should launch in the coming years.
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