Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Off-Topic Tuesday: The Disappearing Female Attorney

Off-Topic Tuesday.  Cute, right?  Lawyers LOVE alliteration.  As I'm getting the hang of this blogging thing, a clear pattern is emerging: the War Stories posts attract the most traffic and are suitable for a Friday because they are light, easy to write, and wrap up the week with a bang.  Content-heavy posts are better in the middle part of the week, since our minds are not yet fatigued from the demands of a full week.  Marketing posts work great at the beginning of the week - I can write them over the weekend and they are a good way for readers to better understand the mechanics of my law practice.  (I'm chuckling at the use of the word "readers" here - are any of you out there?) 
But nearly every week, I find myself beginning a post that is completely off-topic and then scrapping it because I feel like I'm not "allowed" to post it.  After all, this blog is about non-compete agreements and trade secrets.  It's not about women lawyers (although I am one), it's not about Christianity (although I am a Christian), and it's not about motherhood (although I am a mom).  But these are issues that are important to me.  And they are part of my practice: I am discriminated against sometimes by clients who are stuck in the dark ages, I have internal spiritual battles over how to solve problems, and I have to work around kid schedules!   

Perhaps most importantly, this is my blog, so I get to do what I want!  (* Enter foot stomping here *)  So I've decided that every now and again, I'm going to go off-topic to discuss other issues that may not be consistent with my practice area, but are a huge part of who I am and how I run my practice. 

The Disappearing Female Attorney
Today I want to talk about female lawyers.  I'm not going to whine about the difficulty of achieving a work/life balance (although there's no doubt it's hard).  I'm not going to talk about a glass ceiling (because, quite frankly, I'm compensated far better than many of my male colleagues, which is a testament to my boss and the great fortune I've had to work with him).  Rather, I want to explore an issue that I find troubling given how far we've come as a gender in the last century: the disappearing female attorney.
When I graduated from law school, there were women lawyers all around me.  I had a circle of female law school friends, I had interned for a female Michigan Supreme Court Justice, and my firm employed a number of female attorneys, most of whom practiced in my department.  From my perspective, women could and did practice law in the same manner men did - the ones I observed gave their careers 100% all of the time and their careers lasted for many, many years.   

But something has changed.  In the last few years, I have watched female lawyers disappear from private practice before my very eyes.  In my own firm, the number of female attorneys has dwindled to four out of approximately 65 total.  You read that right: a measly 6% of the attorneys in my firm are female.  Opposing a female attorney on a case used to happen with a bit of regularity, but now it is a rarity. (But do I love it when I oppose a woman - there's such camaraderie among those of us who are left!  That's a different post for a different day.)
The national statistics, though not as dismal, are certainly troubling.  According to the 2012 National Association of Women Layers and The NAWL Foundation's National Survey, the further along a woman gets in her career, the fewer female colleagues she has. 
Consider these statistics from that Survey:
  • In 2012, women made up only 15% of law firm equity partners.  Equity partners are part-owners of the firm and are entitled to a portion of the distributable profits.  Put another way, equity partners are firm "big wigs" - they are usually in management roles and they make the most money.  It's what almost every young associate aspires to be.

  • Of non-equity partners, which describes an attorney who is a partner in name only and shares in no part of the firm's profits, only 26% are women (this is what I am).   
As disappointing as these numbers are, they are also confusing.  For years, law schools have graduated about as many females as males.  And the females who graduate have largely been successful in finding post-graduate employment in private practice: 46% of law firm associates are women.

These statistics are unsettling because somewhere between associate and partner, a large percentage of women evaporate from the practice of law.  Why?  Law firms can't be entirely to blame.  More and more I hear about improved maternity leave policies and efforts to place female lawyers in front of clients who expect the same level of diversity that they see in their companies.  This is certainly true at my firm.  I'm not hidden away because I'm female - I'm showcased!  
Is it pay?  A report from the American Bar Association shows that even in the year 2013 - 93 years after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote - females are not compensated as well as their male counter-parts.  But as I stated above, this isn't true everywhere and it can't be the only driving force behind this strange phenomenon. 
So what's the problem?  And is there a solution?  I want to hear from you, dear readers.  Is a woman like me - a full-time female attorney on track to be an equity partner in the midst of building her own book of business - an anomaly?  Is the legal profession alone or are there other industries with such a gender gap?  Sound off!  I will compile your comments for a follow-up post next Tuesday.  I can't wait to hear from you.  
Tomorrow's post is back on topic - Solicitation in the Internet Age.  Until then ...     
Liza Favaro
Non-Compete Counsel
* Disclaimer: The ideas and opinions shared on this site are my own and are not attributable to my employer. No amount of interaction on this site will create an attorney-client relationship. If you have a legal question and you ask it here, I will also answer it here (if I can), but such answers do not guarantee results and do not create an attorney-client relationship. If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at efavaro@gmhlaw.com.


Kate T said...

There are fewer and fewer female engineers as well. Not sure why but that is the case.

liza favaro said...

That's interesting Kate! Is this based off of your experience or is it some thing you've read?

nsv said...

I wonder what the role of age discrimination is, especially as it is differentially experienced by men and women. Some generations of female attorneys may be arriving at an age where they may be finding employment difficult to obtain. Particularly in this era where attorneys have actually been laid off, I wouldn't be surprised to find that women of a certain age were finding it more difficult to find other employment than men. But this is all supposition on my part, I admit. What do you think?

liza favaro said...

That's a great question, nsv and as a "younger" attorney, I admit that I've never viewed it from that perspective. In my experience, being young is the disadvantage, but I can definitely see how older attorneys of either gender find it more difficult to change employers.