Why Are Women Leaving the Legal Profession?
In “Women Leave Law Firms and the Legal Profession. Why?” (InsideTrack, Oct. 17, 2018), Joe Forward wrote that about one-half of today’s law school graduates are women. About one-half of law firm associates are women. Yet, only 20 percent of equity partners are women. What’s at the root of this situation, he asked.
Insufficient work-life balance may be one reason women leave law firms having never advanced to partnerships, Forward wrote, but it’s not the only reason. Implicit bias, sexual harassment, law firm culture, and unequal access to opportunity are cited as other reasons.
“When women lawyers leave the profession, there is a reduced range of legal talent to offer clients, a narrower base for firms and businesses to develop client relationships, and a limited ability to recruit and retain skilled women lawyers at all levels,” according to a recent report from the American Bar Association.
The ABA’s Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law recently held summits as a springboard to more research on women lawyers and their disproportionately high rates of attrition, especially in law firms.
The article struck a chord, with many readers responding online and via social media. Here are some of their comments.
Reader: I wanted to thank you for this article. I graduated from law school in 1995 and am a woman of color. I interviewed for jobs with law firms upon graduation but was never offered one. Your article was spot on describing the culture of many large law firms, and it certainly does support male attorneys who can leave home at the drop of a hat and many can work extensive hours (billable hours).
The number of women of color in partnerships at law firms is even smaller. There are few that I know who even work for law firms and when they do, they are “of counsel.” I think women of color are made to feel “less than” when it comes to coveted partner-track jobs in law firms.
I also think many women attorneys work for government agencies when they can because the weekly work hours are limited and there are benefits that include ample vacation and personal time to take care of children, aging parents, and so on. I am married, and my husband has a business and a full-time job. We have two children. We are very busy, and flexibility is the key to making it work.
Anonymous by Request
Reader: As long as we keep looking at the issue as one of accommodating women’s need to raise babies, the inequity will continue. It reinforces that women are, and should be, the primary caretaker of children, and we just need to accommodate that. This does not address the inequality for women who do not have children (or, heaven forbid, do not want to).
Cross, Jenks, Mercer & Maffei LLP, Baraboo
Reader: I lost my first law firm job when I was 8.5 months pregnant due to the “bad economy” in 2010. The guy who would have been hired as a temp to fill in for my maternity leave actually ended up hired right after I left and stayed four years. (From what I understand, he was fairly mortified after learning that’s how it went down, but I don’t blame him for keeping the job.)
It was demoralizing and though I ended up finding another law job fairly quickly after my son was born, I could easily imagine just leaving and moving on at that point.
Halling & Cayo SC, Milwaukee
Reader: When did the gender balance in law schools become equal? Are there lower numbers of other female attorneys because of attrition or because we never entered the profession in the first place?
Klemish & Johnson LLC, Eau Claire
Response: According to American Bar Association enrollment data, female enrollment in law schools topped 40 percent in 1986, topped 45 percent in 1997, and hit 49 percent in 2001. See ABA statistics (1947 to 2011). In 2016, women outnumbered men in law schools for the first time. See ABA Journal.
State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison
Reader: I recently wrote a grant app to use “gap year” attorneys for brief pro bono work so that they can keep legal work on their resumés. I’m hoping my org gets it. It’s a small effort to mitigate the issues with having “nothing” on one’s resumé while taking care of children or aging parents (hard work that society undervalues).
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What Do Lawyers Do All Day?
In “How to Explain What You Do to a 4 Year Old” (Wisconsin Lawyer, Sept. 2018), Deanne Koll said the question, “What do lawyers do all day, Mom (or Dad)?” can sometimes best be answered by their off-the-clock activities.
Koll wrote, “I have twin 4-year-old daughters. When you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they say things like police officer or teacher. (Okay, sometimes one of them says ‘princess,’ and I’m reminded that she will be a struggle later on in life.) But, generally, they name noble, public service-oriented professions. Never (ever) have they said lawyer, no matter my prompting. You may say that this is because they don’t know what lawyers do. Then, please share your thoughts on how I am to explain what I do to my 4 year olds.”
She got her wish; readers “shared.”
Reader: If you ask my daughter (age “almost 6”) what I do, she would say: Mama helps people.
She knows that I save houses for families and help when people get in trouble with what I tell her is “bad paperwork” (consumer protection is what I actually do), but the way I do it is a mystery to her. I also sit at a desk and bang away at a computer for much of my day #glamorous.
She wants to be a princess or superhero when she grows up. I can’t wait for her to figure out that lawyer-moms are both of those things!
Reader: I don’t remember exactly what I told my son about my particular practice (ethics, professional liability, licensing) when he was that age, but he synthesized it as “you tell grown-ups how to behave.”
Halling & Cayo SC, Milwaukee
Reader: Solve the small-world problems. As in, we help fix locally, and hope globally doesn’t affect us. There are big-time lawyers for the global stuff. Or oligarchs.
Bad River Indian Tribe Chief Blackbird Center, Odanah
“Haste” Was the Point in Rules of Civil Procedure Article
In his letter to the editor (Wisconsin Lawyer, Oct. 2018), Attorney Hazelbaker suggests that we disrespected the legislature’s right to make policy in our article “Please, Not So Fast! The Haste to Alter Rules of Civil Procedure” (Wisconsin Lawyer, July/Aug. 2018).
Of course, we recognize the right of the legislature to adopt court procedural rules, and we said as much when we stated in our article: “It is certainly true that in recognition of the co-equal status of Wisconsin’s branches of government, Wis. Stat. section 751.12(4) permits the legislature to enact, modify, or repeal rules of pleading, practice, and procedure.”
Our quarrel was with the haste with which the legislature acted and its failure to seek input from the Wisconsin Supreme Court or the Judicial Council. At a minimum, the legislature should have followed past practices and permitted the Judicial Council to exercise its statutory duties.
According to Wis. Stat. section 753.13(5), those duties include the following: “(a) Survey and study the organization, jurisdiction and methods of administration and operation of all the courts of this state. … (f) Recommend to the legislature any changes in the organization, jurisdiction, operation and methods of conducting the business of the courts, including statutes governing pleading, practice, procedure and related matters, which can be put into effect only by legislative action. (g) Recommend to the supreme court, legislature and governor any changes in the organization, operation and methods of conducting the business of the courts that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the court system and result in cost savings.”
The legislature did not permit the council to do its duty, and that is a disservice to the bench, bar, and citizens of Wisconsin.
Judge Eugene A. Gasiorkiewicz
William C. Gleisner III