From Ms. JD I learned of the following Fordham Law School Law Review article: The Progress of Women Lawyers at Big Firms: Steadied or Simply Studied? The conclusions were predictable and, for the most part, depressing.
Women lawyers earn less than men.
Women lawyers still represent substantially less than half of those at the top of the legal hierarchy, although the numbers have improved ever so slightly since 1988, the year that I graduated from high school and naively believed that the world was my oyster despite the fact that, through no fault of my own, I possessed a uterus.
Oh, the silly fallacies of youth.
From the article:
I turn first to private practice, the setting where many lawyers choose to begin their careers. Back in 1988, law schools were near the end of a twenty-year trajectory that saw women’s enrollment increase by an astounding 850%.6 This escalation promised rapid progress toward gender parity within the profession as a whole, presumably with large firms at the helm, as this newly populous generation of women lawyers rose through the ranks.
This was not to be the case. Whatever the precise percentages, statistics for the past ten to fifteen years show that the nation’s law schools produce a relatively equal number of qualified male and female attorneys and that, though firms generally hire women associates in numbers correlative to the talent pool,7 women do not reach partnership at the same rate as men...
What has changed? For one, “women’s issues” as defined in the 1980s are now increasingly gender neutral. For another, firms are responding to increased pressure to show results in their diversity efforts, at the risk of diminished status within rankings and other external measures of firm standing and prestige—and at the risk of losing fresh talent and even clients.
What has not changed? Three issues that were the focus of much criticism twenty years ago regrettably still linger: the persistence of gender stereotypes, the resistance to flexible work arrangements, and the use of the billable hours economic model. Given the breathtaking scientific, technological, and cultural advances of the past twenty years, does it not seem that greater progress should have been made?...
The 1988 ABA Commission on Women in the Profession report identified “subtle barriers” to advancement of women in the profession.70 Women perceived that they had to “work harder, do better and make fewer mistakes” to achieve the same degree of respect as men, and were “treated with a presumption of incompetence” that they had to overcome whereas men were treated with a presumption of competence “overcome only after numerous significant mistakes.”71 Men, the report found, “perceive fewer problems of discrimination, and . . . are more likely to regard the issues that greatly disturb women in the profession as silly or trivial"...
(W)hile my focus remains on women—and hopefully the substantial number of senior women lawyers in firms today can be especially helpful in preparing newer lawyers for the bumps in the road—in truth these issues increasingly have become genderless life issues, offering a special incentive for men as well as women to seek out solutions.
Productive legal careers these days may go on for four or more decades. Surely ways can be found to navigate a particularly challenging period that typically falls at the mid- associate level, enabling women to later enjoy their families as well as leadership in their firms, in the profession, on the bench, and in public life.