President of the Barcelona Bar Association
Vice President of the General Council of Spanish Bar Associations
A female benchmark in Barcelona’s legal profession
I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Eugenia Gay Rosell, President of the Barcelona Bar Association (ICAB). Before getting into the matter, I would like to explain briefly who our first interviewee is.
Maria Eugenia graduated in Law from the University of Barcelona-CEU Abat Oliba 20 years ago. Later, she completed her Master’s Degree in Mediation at the ICAB. She decided to study Law and practice as a lawyer “because of her personal vocation and commitment to the defence of the rights and freedoms of citizens”.
She has been a member of this corporation since 2000. Apart from being the president and a lawyer, Maria Eugenia is the mother of four children: Álvaro, Gabriel, Jose María and Víctor.
On behalf of ISMA, I would like to thank the President and her communication team for their attention and kindness in managing the interview reproduced below.
After setting up the Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions, I have had the opportunity to speak with many lawyers in order to get to know their day to day lives. Many of them agree that they cannot express their emotions in front of their clients or colleagues because they are afraid of being discriminated against or of being considered weak professionals.
1. Why do you think lawyers are afraid of expressing their emotions in front of their clients or peers?
Citizens turn to lawyers for advice, to resolve their conflicts and to defend their interests before the courts.
As this is a professional relationship, the lawyer has a formal relationship with the client. That’s not at odds with empathy. It is essential to put yourself in the other person’s skin. Precisely, when a case comes to us in the office we take the side of the people and empathize with him or her to see what is the best possible solution to the problem he or she poses.
Attorney-client relationships are based on trust and in some cases even lead to a friendly relationship, due to the fact that we become “part of the family”.
The nature of the profession means that we do not usually express personal emotions with the client. But that’s not at odds with humane treatment. Precisely because we work with such sensitive material as people’s rights, we have to have a special cure, both in form and in substance, for the cases we handle.
Advocacy is made up of human beings!
With co-workers whom we often spend more hours than with our own family, we do express more of our emotions: how a judgment has gone, how we feel about our children’s success, the difficulty of a case, the discomfort we may have from having little free time… With the client it costs more because, sometimes, we have the perception that explaining our emotions makes us more vulnerable or that we may lose prestige.
In any case, not expressing our perception of life with clients would not qualify it as “fear”. Lawyers empathize and show solidarity with their clients, and in this area, the personal emotions of the lawyer take second place.
2. I often get the perception that certain organizations only want “robot lawyers”. That they do not feel, that they do not openly express what they feel, but that they limit themselves to executing orders from their superiors. How could we humanize our profession?
Law is an exciting and always changing profession. The laws are constantly changing, we have deadlines to present the writings, trials in our city, but also far from home … Often, it seems that we do a marathon to get to all the things that we have to do. Lawyers always have the feeling of running from one place to another.
I believe that a more humane professional practice is possible, as well as learning to use emotions on our behalf, to discover new ways of managing demands and difficulties in the office, in trials and in negotiations with opposing lawyers.
I think that it is precisely the new technologies that will help us to achieve this.
There are already robots in some law firms, especially in the U.S. that are dedicated to more mechanical tasks. Likewise, new technologies will help us to speed up the procedures, so that we will gain time of “added value” that will allow us to exercise the profession more calmly and taking more account of personal issues.
Also, I want to vindicate once again the empathy of advocacy towards clients and that lawyers are human beings who have emotions, who like to do activities and share them with our closest friends. Thanks to new technologies we also share our activity in social networks, in my case, especially through Twitter.
3. I would like you to explain to me, from your experience as a practicing lawyer, a couple of cases in which you have experienced any of the following emotions (joy, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise or fear):
The lawyers who dedicate ourselves to Civil Procedural Law have experienced all the feelings…Joy, sadness, euphoria, disappointment…depending on the result obtained, it generates one emotion or another.
In my case, I deal with Family Law issues and there are very complicated moments. Accompany these people in their processes and finally get a favorable or unfavorable resolution to their interests or those of their children affects you, and a lot. Advocacy is a living profession, which helps citizens, which means sharing their feelings and emotions.
4. Are you planning, from the College, to create a Well-Being Committee, following the Anglo-Saxon model, to analyze issues related to the well-being and emotional intelligence of Barcelona’s lawyers, as well as to provide help and training to its members?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
This vision means that lawyers have to learn how to cope with the normal stresses of life, we have to be aware of our capacities and limits in order to work productively and fruitfully.
Nowadays, one of the aspects that lawyers must face is the high percentage of stress, due to the emotional burden that our work entails. On the one hand, there is the relationship with the client, which involves listening to mostly problematic situations almost every day. On the other hand, it has to inform of the decisions, whether they are favourable or not. We also suffer from the slow functioning of the Administration of Justice, and case deadlines…
We train lawyers who are committed to high technical standards. We work in a constantly changing environment, as a result of the legislative and social changes that take place constantly. We also have to adapt to new technologies and new habits that arise as a result of this. Therefore, through the Service Occupation and Career Guidance (SOOP) of the ICAB we address issues related to the welfare of the legal profession, with the aim of helping our members to cope with emotions because they are a very important part of the exercise of the profession. Learning to manage and know them allows us to take a more empathic approach with the client and to generate a bond of trust.
The ICAB has always wanted to be a pioneer and a point of reference, so the creation of the Well-Being Committee can be studied and evaluated.
5. There are companies that are applying the so-called “digital disconnection” so that their workers have a better welfare. What do you think?
New technologies have allowed us to live hyperconnected and pending today. I’m an advocate of family reconciliation. That is why, for example, the Boards of Government of the Barcelona Bar Association, which were held in the afternoon, have moved on to midday. If we want to build a more humane society I think we must be clear that, apart from work, there must be a space for social relations, for family life, and so on. With good organization and management skills many things can be achieved. This also entails the right to digital disconnection, although in some areas it is easier than in others.
Gender equality in the legal professions
Your commitment to equal opportunities between lawyers is evident: since your mandate, you have presented the “Comprehensive Equality Plan”; you have launched the campaign “Every day is March 8”; you have held the 1st Women Business & Justice European Forum, and you have incorporated the gender perspective in your training programs.
ISMA fully supports this magnificent task. It should be noted that one of our objectives is to break the existing glass ceiling in the legal sector and claim 50 to 50 in the partnership of law firms.
6. In this sense, is it necessary to effectively implement a quota system in the boards of directors of law firms and in the highest jurisdictional instances?
Yes, Advocacy has to work to facilitate the visibility of women in all spheres: social, economic, political, technological. We have the challenge of vindicating female talent, promoting the role of professional and business women in today’s society, promoting equal opportunities and parity policies and breaking the “glass ceiling” that unfortunately still exists in our society, as currently only 19% of women are on the boards of directors of IBEX-35 companies.
We have to believe in equality and work in a coordinated way to achieve a greater participation of women in power scenarios, until we reach a 50/50 parity participation. That is why we have to change the models of governance.
With the desire that the Barcelona Bar Association be one of the engines of this social change, the Board of Governors that I preside, in addition to being equal, has committed to work to achieve effective equality between men and women, starting with the legal profession.
7. Do you think that the quota system is the definitive mechanism for guaranteeing real and effective equality between lawyers within the law firms?
I believe that the quota system is a transitional system that must be maintained as long as there is no social change that makes the glass ceiling’ a concept to be sought in newspaper libraries. A workplace has to be for the person most qualified to do so. As long as there are obstacles that hinder women’s access to management positions, it will be necessary to maintain the quota between men and women in order to value female talent, which is not valued in a natural way.