Raising the Bar: The Gender Stratification of Law-Firm Capital

Fiona M. Kay and John Hagan

Controversy surrounds the selection of women and men for partnerships in law firms. Two structural theories explain the greater success of men in achieving partnership. Human capital theory emphasizes investment choices and productivity; gender stratification theory highlights institutional constraints and bias. The authors incorporate Pierre Bourdieu's cultural capital perspective, which emphasizes both tangible structural sources of social capital and less tangible cultural resources and dispositions. They find that measures of social capital and cultural dispositions favorable to a firm's monetary goals explain some of the preference given to men in partnership decisions. Even with these differences controlled, however, women have poorer prospects for partnership. They also consider whether there is a kind of woman lawyer, one with exceptional structural and cultural characteristics, that is given preference relative to other women. While men are valued for traditional corporate family images, women are rewarded for breaking convention in giving priority to work outside the home, bringing in corporate clients, and endorsing the goals of the law-firm culture

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