By Anna Johansson • September 14, 2017•Careers
As a woman in the legal world, there are two general paths you can take; you can opt for the “soft” specializations like labor, immigration, and family law or you can pave a path and take on the boys club – corporate law and high-profile criminal cases. Which do you choose and how will you justify your choice? Because make no mistake, as a successful woman, you’ll be asked to justify any and every choice.
There isn’t an easy or a right choice when determining what area of law to pursue and great lawyers are needed everywhere. The key is to follow your gut and do what you excel at. And if that’s family law? Don’t be mistaken, you can make your gender work to your advantage for your clients and on a personal level.
Family Law: Feminized Niche?
There’s no doubt that certain legal specialties are considered feminized and the statistics back up this perception. For example, a breakdown of major practices shows that 60% of lawyers at big immigration firms are women, while women make up 48% of family lawyers. Considering that, as of a 2015 American Bar Association study, only 35% of all lawyers are women, this is an outsized proportion.
Of course, it’s hard to call family law a feminized profession when so few women are lawyers in the first place – our position in the room is far from assured – certainly, we’re given more room in this part of the profession than others. Additionally, since women are hired at even lower rates at major firms, lacking anything like parity in Big Law, being a family lawyer for such a group is yet another exceptional position. With all that in mind, what matters is how we use that unusual level of influence in these circles.
One of the primary reasons that women are drawn to and excel at family law is that it’s a field that allows us to empathize and identify with our clients. In general, when we have a deeper connection with clients, we’re stronger and more committed advocates. Even if we seem to have little in common with a client on the surface, when we can see ourselves in that person, we fight harder. For women in family law, it’s often easier to find that connection from the start.
Another reason women have an advantage in family law is because it tends to be easier to build client trust. Whether you’re assisting women who’ve been abused in their marriages, talking to children who are used to looking to a maternal figure, or just talking about execution of parental responsibilities including seeking medical care and providing guidance and discipline, you’ll find that you’re treated with more authority in family law. It isn’t exactly a feminist read on the situation, but you’ll see it happen and you should acknowledge this dynamic as part of your professional life.
Shutting Down Stereotypes
Besides being viewed by other lawyers as being in a “soft” law niche, there are a few negative stereotypes and misconceptions associated with women lawyers in family law. Angry fathers, for example, have been known to allege bias against fathers in family law. Though there’s no proof that this is the case – if anything, articles that make this accusation take an unfounded, pro-father angle – but you can expect to be the target of some fathers’ anger in custody cases.
Breaking Legal Boundaries
As a woman in the legal professions, you’re already breaking down barriers. And while it’s admirable to be doing explicitly feminist work and breaking boundaries within law, it’s enough to just have a job that satisfies you. At the end of the day, you don’t have to be another Gloria Allred, famed feminist lawyer. Help your clients, be passionate, and use whatever advantages you can in the name of justice.