Women in Law: Is Equality The Rule Here?

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The legal profession, from its very beginning has been male dominated. Let's take the example of one of the most popular Shakespearean plays, 'The Merchant of Venice.' Even though Shakespeare had the courage to make his female protagonist Portia play a significant role in the courtroom, she had to disguise as a male jurist. But of course this is not the 16th century and things have changed radically. At least, a woman doesn't need to disguise as a male to practice law. That said, gender bias still exists in this profession.

While browsing the Internet a couple of days back, I came across an article dated back to October 1993 which explains how sex bias persists in courts. The article explains how female attorneys during those days were three times more likely "to be addressed by their first name or by terms of endearment" than their male counterparts. Many also reported that their male peer made demeaning jokes and offensive remarks about female lawyers. But have things changed much after almost 22 years?

Unfortunately no. Women in legal professions still face barriers, although their numbers and positions are improving. There have been four female Supreme Court justices and two U.S. attorney generals and thousands of female lawyers are practising now. These developments have indeed helped bring change in the way gender discrimination affect female lawyers, yet gender bias persists.

Female Lawyers and Gender Bias

One thing for sure, the number of female law school graduates has dramatically increased over the years. They are also given better opportunities and some of them also end up as partners in their firm, but the numbers hardly reflect equality. Besides, many female law students report that their male peers are often hostile toward them and their professors belittle their performance, they are still suffering sex-bias.

The following charts are from the 2014 report of the American Bar Association Market Research Department,  help you get a glance at women in  law.

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It shows that only a small percentage of women lawyers can climb the corporate ladder in the legal profession while the majority continues to work as associates and summer associates. Just open a lawyer's directory and search for the top car accident lawyers Indiana or for any other state. You will find that the list is mostly dominated by men. But does that mean women lawyers are incompetent? Perhaps not.

Even in terms of salary, women lawyers are lagging behind their male counterparts. Consider the following chart based on the findings of the 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

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Women Lawyers Lag Behind Their Male Peers in Billing Rates

On average, women lawyers are paid less and get fewer promotions than their male peers. Worst still, they often encounter harassment and hostility especially because of their family needs. Things sometimes get so serious that some of them even get the "work wife" badge, symbolizing a culture where women legal practitioners are considered as supporters of their male counterparts, instead of being equal to them. They are often termed as insufficiently aggressive, too emotional, uncomfortably forthright, and so on. Many think that women lawyers are not as serious as their male peers about their careers, especially when they opt for family leave or hesitate to use flexible work schedules.

Women in law not only earn less than the male legal professionals for the hours they work, they also tend to do lower-level tasks like scheduling meetings, taking notes and keeping the calendar etc. Law firms, however, are trying to hire more female lawyers as well as keep those they already have to fight the gender war, the results are not very satisfactory tol date. A NAWL report published in 2014 found that out of the 200 top-grossing firms of the country, only "17 percent of equity partners are women."

This chart shows a pictorial timeline when women lawyers usually drop out of their career race:

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The reason why women lag behind in their career growth is that many of them want to have a family and find it difficult to cope with the pressure, especially after having kids and finally end up leaving their job before they could reach the top position. But what happens to those who stay back?

They too usually end up earning less; the NAWL report indicates that women lawyers earn almost $250,000 less than men per year. Law firms often tend to give discounts to clients for work done by female lawyers and consequently, they are billed less than their male counterparts. While most male partners charge over $500 per hour, only a few women are doing that. Even if these female lawyers are doing outstanding jobs, they don't get enough credit. Studies also indicate that even if women lawyers bring as much business as their male "rainmaker" peers, they still get smaller paychecks.

This gap begins right at the junior lawyer level and continues to become more prominent at senior level, especially among the most experienced attorneys at the top firms. A WSJ article indicates that while senior male lawyers with over 25 years of work experience at some Los Angeles law firms charge $487 an hour, their female equivalents charge around $450, which is 8.3 percent less than them on average.

The story is similar everywhere, be it LA or New York or any other American city. Despite the changes happening over the past few decades, the gender gap still persists in the legal profession. The statistics echo the discrepancies not only in the compensation realm but almost everywhere.


Although the U.S. census data shows that almost one-third of the lawyers and judges in the country are now women, equality in the profession is yet to be achieved. Men are generally credited as the 'rainmaker' lawyers, while women suffer from attrition and work-life balance issues. However, there is a silver-lining. Many women lawyers are now charging as much as their male colleagues and are just as well compensated. Then again, that's just a small number and is not really the case for women lawyers with less power.

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