Women Lawyers Leaving the Profession in Droves

Is it true that Women lawyers are leaving the profession in droves?

Last year just under 50% of the law degrees were awarded to women, yet only 33% of the profession is comprised of women lawyers. Obviously, since women were a significant minority in the profession for the last 30 years, you can’t take this one year to draw your conclusion that women are leaving the legal profession “in droves.” However, there’s more.  Is Ally McBeal representative of women lawyers

Marilsse Silver Sweeny wrote an excellent article published at The Daily Beast in which she discussed some of the reasons women chose another profession.

In the article she points out that the whole work assignment, work performance model at law firms was designed by men when they dominated the profession. Unfortunately, if she is right, men may continue to dominate the profession for that very reason.

Three things really stick out to me and have caused me to think (which is good).

Different Expectations for Men Lawyers Versus Women Lawyers

In Big Law, or perhaps in your small firm, are the expectations of women lawyers significantly different than the expectations for their mail counter-parts?

For example, when determining who should handle a case, is the gender of the lawyer a significant factor, or is the assignment based upon past performance in similar or comparable cases.  Or even more important, is it based upon a desire to move one lawyer along an accelerated promotion tract versus a second lawyer (likely female) who we are not sure is going to “stick around.”

The mass exodus discussed by Ms. Sweeny, could be sort of a self-fufilling prophecy.

Does your firm truly rally around the “outside interests” of the female attorneys in the same way or with the same vigor as it does with the men lawyers?  You see, sometimes, because it has been a male dominated profession, the difference in treatment of men lawyers versus women lawyers, is suttle and often overlooked by leadership.

Silence About Sexual Harassment May be Self-Imposed

Are the men in your law firm being sexually harassed?  Ms. Sweeny, quoting Patricia Gillette, a partner in employment law at Orrick in San Francisco and a commissioner on the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession,  writes:

Gillette says that women who are victims of sexual harassment may think, “I better be careful. I don’t want to screw myself for the rest of my career.” She says that if a woman made a claim of sexual harassment against her firm, it would be difficult for her to be hired at another corporate law firm.

Think about that just a minute.  Are women “expected” to just go along to get along.  Sounds cliche’ I know, but what’s being said here is that women are fearful about raising an issue about sexual discrimination because they don’t want to be labeled (for life) as “one of those complainers.”  Where does that come from?  Is that the kind of environment that serves the profession, and thus the community?  I think not.  But is it real, or just “imagined?”

When considering hiring two new lawyers, isn’t it obvious that where the education and experience level is roughly equal, you have to go to “soft factors” in making the decision.  No one wants to say it, but the answer is obvious.  One of those “soft factors” may just be that she complained about the “all men” bar nights, or the “poker nights” for summer law clerks.

Think about it.

Women’s Voices are Silent Until They Reach Thirty Percent of Leadership

Again, is it really true that  until women reach critical mass on influential boards and committees both within the profession itself, and within law firms, women simply are not comfortable voicing their opinions.  Author Deborah Epstein Henry in her book Law & Reorder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance stakes out that position.  If only 20% of the membership on such boards are made up of women lawyers, can women’s voices actually be heard?

Obviously, such a conclusion cannot be reached about the entire profession. It’s just as obvious, that you will easily find many examples where voices are silence because of fear of reprisal, both real and imagined.

I just raise this because it made me wonder.

So what’s the solution?

If it costs a law firm in excess of a quarter of a million dollars when an associate leaves, surely there has to be a solution.

First, we’ve got to agree that there’s a problem. Is there?

Here is a video about the top Women Lawyers of 2011 from Lawyers Weekly.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

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