The new generation of leading female lawyers in Africa

Discover the growth in the number of female lawyers rankings in Africa from the research of the Chambers Global team into the Chambers Global 2024 guide.

Published on 20 February 2024
Written by Ana Licurci
Ana Licurci

Despite the growth in the number of female lawyers, different aspects of bias are still present in the legal market

It is not news that women lawyers often encounter difficulties throughout their career as the impact of gender bias affects their ability to rise in the profession, and the career opportunities afforded to them in general. Despite the growing presence of women in the legal profession across several jurisdictions, different aspects of bias are still present in the profession.

In our recent coverage of the legal markets across Africa, we have observed a consistent growth in the number of female lawyers ranked. However, a deeper look at this data is necessary to understand the intricacies of the market. In our 2024 guide, we saw a growth of approximately 12% in the number of female lawyers who receive the highest recognition in our rankings, with the number of women recognised in our Band 1 category across African jurisdictions rising from 59 in 2023 to 66.

This number reflects a wide variety of practitioners who showcase expertise in different sectors, including names such as Catarina Levy Osório, the founding partner of Angolan firm ALC Advogados, whose expertise in finance and corporate matters has made her well-regarded in the jurisdiction and internationally; Kurshid Fashel who, with her impressive knowledge of banking and finance has a growing standing in the South African market; and Folake Elias-Adebowale, highly regarded Nigerian lawyer with in-depth experience in commercial transactions, including those in the energy sector. Potentially even more significant has been the growth in the number of younger female lawyers in the rankings.

We have recently seen the number of Up-and-coming women lawyers rise from 45 to 69, a growth of approximately 54%. These lawyers are increasingly reshaping the face of the legal sector in Africa and demonstrate the wider market presence of a new generation of female lawyers.

Whilst women in Africa may be experiencing similar issues to those faced by their counterparts in other parts of the world, such as a more limited representation in leadership positions within law firms, it is interesting to think that the growth in the younger generation of female African lawyers may be a progressive sign of wider changes in the legal profession.

Why is this important?

It is not only legal professionals themselves who see gender diversity as an important issue to consider. Throughout our research, we are increasingly seeing the emphasis placed by clients on issues of gender diversity, with law firms attracting strong praise when they are able to field diverse teams.

In some African jurisdictions, it is not only the gender strand of diversity, equity and inclusion that is important for clients. Clients in South Africa, for example, have mentioned how important it is to have a diverse team in a wider sense, as one mentions:

“The team is largely composed of black African and female lawyers, which aligns with our own transformation objectives as a company to support diverse teams.”

In jurisdictions such as South Africa, where structured racial and ethnic discrimination is part of the history of society and its key professions, including law, observing these other aspects of diversity is also key to understanding the needs and dynamics of the market. It is particularly interesting to note how these issues also interact with gender diversity.

Certain studies demonstrate how specific diversity markers interact with one another, at times creating different levels of biases individuals can experience. In Africa, whilst the growth of a new generation of female lawyers is noteworthy, it is important to observe the intricacies of race and ethnicity, and how these factors often play a role in the difficulties experienced by black women in law, as well as women identifying as other non-white ethnicities, as South African lawyer Lydia Shadrach-Razzino explained:

“Being a female of colour in this industry and in the South African context was probably the biggest obstacle I had to face. People make assumptions about you, with conscious and unconscious biases. I was very much underestimated when I walked into a boardroom, generally a boardroom full of men.”

In such a scenario, clients not only see the importance of the presence of female and black lawyers within the law firms they choose to instruct, they also note the importance of having women of colour in positions of leadership. In South Africa, clients particularly praise law firms which have aspired to close the diversity gap. One source said:

“The firm is diverse; its disciplines are headed by women of colour and there is also a good representation of black professionals in firm. I would say they on the right track.”

Another reflected:

“It is seldom you come across an organisation that empowers women. The team at this law firm is diverse, made up of women and of individuals from different ethnic groups. This is extremely pleasing to witness.”

In our 2025 guide we look forward to expanding on these issues even further, and to observing closely the development of this younger generation of black female lawyers.


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