Are Gender Schemas Still Shaping Lives of Women Lawyers

Despite achieving significant fame in the legal world, women lawyers still lag behind their male colleagues in various ways. Billing rates are just one of them. According to a new analysis, female attorneys are paid 10 percent less for their services.

While it is true that the number of female lawyers practising today has considerably increased (32.9 percent as of 2014), they are still battling gender bias. Recent studies too indicate that the undercurrent of gender bias does exist in the legal profession. It is imperative for all practicing attorneys to identify areas of gender bias in their profession and eliminate them.

Gender Bias – Study Results

The Women in Law Committee of the State Bar of California conducted a survey along with The Employment Law Center, Legal Aid Society of San Francisco, the findings of which are as follows:

  • 85 percent of female attorneys surveyed have experienced a subtle but ubiquitous gender bias within their profession. Most female lawyers agreed that their male peers do not accept them as equals.
  • Law firms where majority of lawyers are women have greater perception of gender fairness.
  • Some of the participants attributed this to unconscious behavior of their male counterparts. That being said, lack of awareness among male or female legal professionals is not the only cause. It was reported that young male associates often express physically threatening behavior to prove their points, especially in absence of witnesses.
  • Women minority lawyers often become victims of double bias. They are subjected to both gender and ethnic bias.
  • When it comes to satisfaction in the practice of law, 76 percent of women lawyers said that they would still prefer to be in the legal profession while 24 percent said that they would choose another profession. Around 55 percent of female attorney prefer working with other women lawyers and 62 percent believe that female lawyers don’t have as much career and advancement opportunity as their male colleagues.
  • 76 percent of female attorneys interviewed in the survey reported negative bias from opposing counsel, 48 percent from superiors, 64 percent from clients, and 43 percent from peers. Another 65 percent said that they didn’t make any career changes because of these negative bias, thinking that it won’t be any different elsewhere.
  • Majority of participants, almost 62 percent felt that their male colleagues do not accept them as lawyers, 88 percent experienced a subtle but prevalent gender bias in their workplace, and 38 said that women lawyers can never have equal status with their male counterparts.
  • Almost half of the responding women lawyers reported experiencing sexual harassment at work.
  • In terms of satisfaction with legal employment, 79 percent of those surveyed said they are satisfied with their current jobs. These female attorneys further stated that they enjoy the challenges posed by legal works as well as the opportunity to meet new and interesting people and to work in a pleasant setting.

However, many expressed negative feelings concerning long working hours, which further raised issues like too little time for family and/or having difficulty in balancing personal and professional lives.

Women Attorneys Work Longer Hours than Male Lawyers

A recent Harvard Law School study suggests that women lawyers “work more hours than men, on average.” This report too indicates that although the number of women entering the legal profession dramatically increased in the past few decades, the percentage of female attorneys in leadership positions remains far below their male colleagues. Worst still, women who did achieve vital career success were reported to leave their prestigious positions as well as their profession in alarming numbers. Many blame it to the long working hours.

The study also found:

  • Women lawyers who have mentors in their initial years of practice have better chances to make partner.
  • The ‘large’ gender pay gap was not reported among Harvard Law School graduates who were entering their first job. However, it was attributed to the fact that most big firms have standardized starting salaries.
  • Female lawyers are less likely to be married compared to their male counterparts. It also found, “the percentage of male partners who are married far outpaces the percentage of women partners who are married.
  • Women partners are twice as likely to have no children compared to their male peers.
  • Female lawyers who have kids said that they face significantly more work place consequences than men, the likes of which even include loss of seniority.

While the study found that male lawyers are more satisfied with ‘rewards’ than their female counterparts. On the other hand, women attorneys are more content with “the substance of their work.

Female Lawyers in Men’s World

Business law, by far, is considered as a “man’s world” even today. It is therefore obvious that women business attorneys still experience gender discrimination in their workplace. Many female business attorneys have reported being “mistaken” as a secretary by their clients. There were instances when male clients confused a business dinner with a date when meeting female lawyers.

The corporate world is a very “suited” one and there was a time when women lawyers were looked down upon in this area of legal profession. Even today, there are a few areas of business law such as corporate securities and finance that are without many women, although there is no objective reason for that.

But things are changing. Today, there are many law firms that are supportive of women and have female partner and associates. Even clients who previously had a resistance to women attorneys have changed their attitude. This could also be because of the reason that a large number of corporate clients today are women.


Although unfortunate, it is true that it’s hard for a woman to be in any profession and not just legal profession. You have to make choices, prioritize things and often sacrifice one thing over another.  In an aggressive profession like this, it is important for female lawyers to understand the consequences and balance their professional and personal life. But at the same time, law firms need to eliminate differences between policy and practice to become more supportive of their female lawyers. It’s time law gets rid of the stigma of being a gendered profession.

Author Bio: Rachel Oliver is a business lawyer with in-depth knowledge of the niche. She follows her passion by keeping a tab on the latest happenings in her niche and moonlights as a writer. You can read her write-ups on several websites. Feel free to get in touch with her on Google+.

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