Winston & Strawn partner Alison Weal believes that opportunities for female lawyers to excel in shipping are improving all the time.

And the make-up of law firms has definitely changed for the better.

But the finance specialist said there is still work to be done in a maritime industry where only 1.2% of the global workforce is female.

Weal has risen to become a leader in her field, having cultivated a finance practice focusing on shipping, rail and aviation in the London office of the US-headquartered law firm.

"If we look at the shipping industry generally, that is still lagging behind," she told TradeWinds. "It's traditionally a male industry and things take time to change."

Weal said things are now different from when she practiced law as a trainee at Watson Farley & Williams in 2002.

Strong female supervisor

"I was quite lucky in that in my first seat I had a very good, excellent strong female supervisor and that encouraged me to see how women were able to progress," the lawyer said.

Most of the partners in law firms were male when she started out, and the people in senior positions at banks and shipping companies were also men, she explained.

"If I look at a law firm now, yes there probably still is at the top a majority of white males, that goes without saying, but it's changing," Weal said.

The lawyer believes that there are now really strong female lawyers, from her own peer group and from the cohort just ahead of her in terms of age.

And there are women leaders within the industry, female partners who are promoting change and getting involved in a lot of the initiatives to improve diversity, Weal argues.

"That's really good to see for the junior lawyers because you do lose a lot of junior female lawyers along the way. So it's good to have those role models," she said.

A big part of retention is how firms have addressed questions of work-life balance for women as well as men, Weal told TradeWinds.

"The family thing is still a difficult barrier to get past," she added. "A lot more flexible working is available; the paternity packages for men are certainly helping."