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Does Gender Play a Role in Attorney Ethics?

A study published by Florida State University Law Review found that women attorneys are disciplined at a significantly lower rate than their male counterparts and generally incur less severe sanctions.

Does this mean women make more ethical attorneys? According to the researchers that’s open to interpretation. 

The study found data could only support theories or confirm they weren’t applicable. Although ultimately inconclusive the report delved into broad biological, physiological, social and cultural differences, how these apply to attorneys, and how they apply to the substantial difference in disciplinary rates. Among these: 

  1. Disciplinary boards are not easier on women. The study found that regressions on the length of term suspensions indicated gender was not a predictor of suspension length.
  2. Women are generally regarded as being better communicators. “Studies have consistently found that women are better decoders and encoders of nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, body language, and vocal cues.” Women therefore could maintain higher client satisfaction – notable since the study found clients’ most common complaints involved attorneys failing to communicate, including not returning phone calls and “neglecting” a legal matter.  
  3. “As an observer of the attorney disciplinary gender gap in Texas put it, “It could be that women are less greedy.” Several reports found men in law tend to have more self-serving motivation. The study also found men are mentioned more frequently in disciplinary actions that explicitly considered aggravating factors, a self-serving, selfish, or dishonest motive; and women ranked higher in being said to have acted in good faith or to have not profited from the wrongdoing in cases where attorneys submitted mitigating factors.

What this means for you: In the legal profession where ethics are paramount, trust your instincts in how you approach ethical decision-making. Consider that your male colleagues may have a different approach and assert yourself in discussions about the right course of action. 

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