In last Tuesday's post, I talked about female lawyers and their tendency to exit private practice early on in their careers. My how things can change in just one week.
When I wrote last week's post, I framed this issue as a "problem." In my typical overly dramatic fashion, I focused on the statistics surrounding women in private practice both inside my firm and nationwide and posed the question: where are the female lawyers going?
I wasn't alone in my view that this phenomenon is troubling. I found this article, published in the New York Times in 2006, fascinating. In it, the author details the various barriers women face in reaching "the top" of big law firms. Everything from poor mentoring to limited networking opportunities to low-grade assignments to male control of the workplace is blamed. And, of course, children have long been thought to be a big factor too.
But what I hadn't considered is that many women are simply choosing to do something different than practice law in a traditional setting. After all, we know that a law degree does not automatically require one to join a law firm. With a law degree, one can run a corporation, advise a corporation, become a politician, teach at a university .... the possibilities are endless.
And this seems to be where many women have gone. They've gone into government, they've joined universities, they've gone in-house. Two of the women who have left my firm in the last year have taken in-house positions with large companies. One of them told me that an in-house job eliminates the pressure and time associated with generating business, leaving more time for family and hobbies. I imagine the same is true in many of the alternative careers available to lawyers.
But according to this article, there is another reason many female attorneys go in-house. The behaviors and personalities unique to women are well-suited for a corporate environment, where there is only one client and everyone with whom they come into contact is pursuing the same goals on behalf of that client. I truly had never thought of this before.
But this begs the question: where does that leave someone like me? I am a bit of an anomaly in that I actually enjoy law firm life. Sure, I'm surrounded by old, white, men who get apoplectic every time I display a female character trait. But overall, I have it pretty good. I'm treated well and I'm compensated well. Most of all, I like the work I do.
Still, it would be dishonest of me to say that in a different setting, I wouldn't have made the same choice as my female predecessors. But that's the beauty of this profession, isn't it? There truly is something for everyone. We lawyers don't all have to do the same thing and there is such opportunity for well-educated, ambitious women. Whether in private practice or elsewhere, if professional excellence is the goal, I applaud the women who have found it.
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