By Kerriann Stout • March 20, 2018•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
It is an exciting time to be a woman in the legal profession. I am definitely not suggesting that things are all “rainbows and butterflies” for female attorneys or that there isn’t still a lot of work to be done to close gender gaps. However, in 2016 women made up the majority of law students in the United States for the first time. In 2017, also for the first time, A-list included gender among equity partners as a ranking factor in determining which law firms are best. And, the wage gap - while still present, is narrowing.
The tide is shifting and those 2016 majority-female law school admits will graduate and enter the workforce next year. From what I’ve seen, these female law students are ready to go. They are activists, leaders, high-achievers, and they are hungry to get out there and make a difference. While we don’t know the exact impact this surge in women lawyers will make, we know for sure that change is coming. Here are my 5 predictions on the implications of having more women in the legal profession.
Female Lawyers Find Safety in Numbers
Recently, the United States has been rocked by women speaking out against sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. The legal community, unsurprisingly, was not exempt from accusations. One of the most important things the #MeToo movement has taught us is that women are not sitting back and letting things happen to them. The incredible bravery and poise shown by those who have spoken out has been inspiring.
So inspiring, in fact, I can envision a world where a female lawyer doesn’t have to be scared to speak up because she knows her job is not at risk. Ideally, men would not sexually harass women out of their deep respect and appreciation for them as people and due to an inner moral compass that allows them to determine right from wrong. However, in the absence of that, I see the legal community becoming better at educating men in the profession on these issues and raising awareness about them. The increase of women in the legal profession, and eventually in leadership positions, will lead to #MeToo becoming the exception, not the norm, in the legal community.
A Change in The Prevalence of Female Lawyer Role Models
We live in a society where a total of 4 women have served on the Supreme Court. While that is an amazing accomplishment, the increase in role models I am thinking of, while perhaps less “elite,” might be even more important. I see more female law professors, female solo attorneys, and female state and local judges.
I was very fortunate to go to a law school where half of my ffirst-yearcourses were taught by female professors. I didn’t have to look very far to find successful female role models. However, it hasn’t always been the case, and it is not the case at many other law schools today.
It will be important for these role models to not only exist, but also to give back. In order for this shift to remain the norm, women lawyers must show up to career days and community events, sit on alumni panels, and represent their firms at job fairs. They need to be visible and present so that those coming behind them clearly see the path to success.
Increased Transparency in The Legal Profession
Things can be very “hush, hush” in the legal community. People don’t like to discuss what they get paid, what their actual job requirements are, or any of their fringe benefits. We’ve already started to see more and more female lawyers taking a stand on wage gap issues and demanding more access to information. When the number of female lawyers increases, it is going to blow the lid on this issue all the way off. It will no longer only be about access to information regarding hourly rate or salary, but also retirement plans, vacation and sick day packages, and workload expectations.
The Decline, or Demise, of the Billable Hour
Studies show that women lawyers work as many, if not more, hours as men do, yet many bill fewer hours. This is usually because women complete more non-billable hours such as training sessions, pro bono assignments, administrative tasks, and other service-related activities. And even when women bill the same number of hours, we know they aren’t making as much money due to the wage gap discussed above.
Women are creative and collaborative problem solvers. If there is one good thing to be said about not having a seat at the table for so many years, it is that women are less likely to say “this is how it has always been done, so this is how we must keeping doing it.” If the billable hours model no longer serves a large portion of the legal profession, it makes sense to get rid of it. Whatever method replaces it will take into account the traditional uncompensated, non-billable activities and create a system that more fairly compensates for all efforts that further the firm, not solely for client work.
Improved Quality of Life For All Lawyers
It is no secret that lawyers work too much, go on vacation too little, and don’t give nearly enough in the way of family leave. With more women in the legal profession, these things must change. One reason is that if there are more women than ever in the legal community, that likely means there are more moms as well.
Many women, and moms in particular, are known for being highly efficient, organized, and task-oriented. There is a reason that many of us childless folk (myself included) stare at our mom friends in awe and say things like “I don’t know how you get it all done.” Women lawyers are busy. They have many different priorities and not a lot of time for bureaucracy and red tape. These women will put their heads together and create paid family leave and vacation programs that bring the legal profession closer to striking the elusive work-life balance.
I hope all these predictions, and more, become a reality as we welcome more women into the legal profession. I’ll be watching these changes closely, will you?
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