Why A Large Number of Women May Be Leaving Law

Big Law may soon be seeing a significant drop in female-representation.

A new study by the ABA, reported by Bloomberg Law, finds that 35% of women are thinking of going part-time. For women with children age five or younger, the rate is even higher at 53%. 37% of women are considering leaving their job entirely due to the effects of the pandemic.

“They are typically women who are five to 15 years out of law school who are enormously profitable for law firms,” Stephanie Scharf, a co-author of the ABA report, tells Bloomberg Law.

UNDERREPRESENTATION IN THE LAW INDUSTRY

That’s not the only risk facing law firms. Like many industries, law has historically had poor representation when it comes to women of color. In fact, according to a report by the National Association for Law Placement, representation of minority women has seen minimal growth over the years.

“In 1993 minorities accounted for 2.55% of partners and women accounted for 12.27% of partners,” according to the report. “And at just 3.19% of partners in 2018, minority women continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions.”

At the law school level, however, female representation has seen impressive growth. According to a report by Enjuris, the percentage of women who attended ABA-approved law schools increased by 0.78% from 2019 to 2020. Across the US, 73.98% of law schools have more female attendees than male.

THE GLASS CEILING

While female representation has seen positive growth at law schools, the advancement rates for women and people of color in the legal profession remains low.

Tsedale M. Melaku, a sociologist at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and the author of You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism, wrote about the obstacles that women and people of color in law face on a day to day basis.

“Diversity in legal professions has long been a delicate issue — it’s hard and uncomfortable to talk about what real diversity entails,” Melaku writes for the Harvard Business Review. “And that calls into focus the fact that white men continue to enjoy both racial and gender privilege in the legal industry. This slows down the ability of organizations to create real change and leaves the burden on women and people of color to figure it out on their own.”

Improving the advancement rates for women and people of color, according to Melaku, comes down to two major shifts in how the legal profession approaches diversity: one focusing on support and training and the other focusing on image.

“This means investing in structural changes, such as making partners accountable for ensuring that people of color and women receive the essential training opportunities that will facilitate their ability to level the playing field,” Melaku writes. “It also means embracing an image of what success looks like that encompasses the diverse palette of American capacity, experience, and vitality that our rhetoric, our anthems, and our aspirations are so eager to proclaim.”

Sources: Bloomberg Law, ABA, Harvard Business Review, NALP, Enjuris

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