WILL, CO-CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF THE
litigation funding firm Burford Capital,
is trying a creative approach to level
the legal playing field for women. She
founded the Equity Project, an initiative to address gender imbalance in the
legal profession. Prior to joining Burford in 2010, Will was a senior litigation
manager and assistant general counsel
at Time Warner Inc.
Will says, “As a woman who was an
in-house counsel, I think pushing law
firms to put women in leadership roles
on your cases is a sure-fire way to move
the needle.” She says she discovered
that less than 5% of the thousands of
commercial matters brought to Burford
in the company’s first nine years were
led by women lawyers. “It struck me
that that was nuts,” she says.
Will wasn’t seeing any gender pro-
grams out there helping to close the
gap. “Then came the ‘aha’ moment,”
she says. “It’s all about the money. Law
firms are businesses, and if you can
focus on the money, we can use Bur-
ford’s capital as a tool to generate busi-
ness for women lawyers.”
Thus was born the international
Equity Project. Launched in 2018 in
New York City and since expanded to
London and Paris, it seeks to change
gender imbalance in the profession.
The initiative set up a $50 million pool
of capital earmarked for financing com-
mercial litigation and arbitration mat-
ters led by women.
It provides an economic incentive
for firms to put women in charge of
large complex litigation, which often
involves corporations and their in-house counsel.
“We’re off to a great start,” Will
says, although she isn’t yet releasing
how much of the money is committed
so far. “We just held our first full-fledge
boot camp. It was invitation-only to 32
women who were mostly junior part-
ners at big law firms. Every single one
of them came.”
How will she measure the project’s
“In two ways,” she says. “First if we
see more women taking funding and
getting opportunities to litigate cases.
And, hopefully, we will be able to com-
pare the results we get with this pool of
capital with the rest of Burford’s invest-
ment pool. I’d love to be able to tell
you in five years that these cases came
in under budget and generated more
profit for Burford.”
Her ultimate personal goal, though,
is loftier. “If we can create a lot of
women rainmakers and they are pro-
moted, ultimately we will shift the cul-
ture in those law firms,” she says.
PATEL, GLOBAL CHIEF DIVERSITY AND
inclusion officer at Akin Gump
Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington,
D.C., sees firsthand the differences
between the U.S. efforts and other
countries. Globally, he says, the U.K.
probably has the closest view of diversity and inclusion to the U.S. stance.
Patel says a common focus globally includes gender and LGBTQ
issues, as well as race and ethnicity.
With London being home to Akin
Gump’s third-largest offices, he visits
there often. “One important area of
distinction is that of social mobility.
It’s an important focus in the U.K.,”
Patel notes, repeating the importance
of private schools.
The U.K. collects and makes public diversity data from law firms. Patel
gives that effort a mixed review. “They
It offers financial assistance on legal
practice course fees, access to high-quality work experience and a professional mentor.
The Society also helped launch a
Women in Law Pledge at its interna-
tional Women in Law symposium last
June. Boyce says signatories to the
pledge vow to tackle discrimination,
bullying and harassment in the work-
place, the gender pay gap “and other
inequalities that still affect women in
law today, especially those facing mul-
tiple layers of discrimination.”
She says the U.K.’s Sex Disqualifi-
cation (Removal) Act marked its 100th
anniversary in December. The law
enabled women to become barris-
ters, solicitors, jurors and magistrates.
Despite that, Boyce says 50.2% of
practicing solicitors are women while
female lawyers make up only 30.1% of
partners in private practice.