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What Legal Demographic is Ruled by Women?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Is there anyone who thinks that women rule the legal world?

It's certainly not the boys club that it was back in the day when Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were graduating from law school and trying to break through the glass ceiling. O'Connor graduated at the top of her class at Stanford Law School and only received legal secretary offers from law firms. Ginsburg had to endure Harvard Law Dean Erwin Griswold asking the women of her class what it felt like to occupy places that could have gone to deserving men. (She later transferred to Columbia, where she graduated at the top of her class.)

Four female Supreme Court Justices later, men still dominate the law, but women rule among part-time practitioners, Reuters reports.

Only 6.2 percent of lawyers worked part-time in 2012, according to a survey by the National Association for Legal Career Professionals, which analyzed employer information from over 1,100 law offices. That was the same rate as 2011, said the industry group. Of the lawyers who worked part-time, over 70 percent were women ... Amongst all female lawyers, 13.5 percent worked part-time, versus 2.7 percent of male lawyers. Around a tenth of female associates worked part-time, and 11.7 percent of female partners, according to the survey.

Not that part-time work is held as a mark of distinction.

NALP Executive Director James Leipold told Reuters that firm culture discourages lawyers from exercising part-time work options, and that part-time attorneys face adverse career consequences.

Leipold's statements underscore the National Association of Women Lawyers' 2012 survey, which found that men still hold maintain control at law firms. According to the NAWL report:

The typical AmLaw 200 firm is now a two-tier partnership with many different categories of lawyer in a leveraged structure: 151 equity partners (barely 15 percent women), 91 non-equity partners (26 percent women), 54 counsel (35 percent women), 188 associates (46 percent women), and 11 staff attorneys (70 percent women). As the preceding numbers clearly show, women constitute a smaller percentage of each category as you move up the career ladder. In other words, over the course of time women exit law firms disproportionately more than their male peers.

If you're one of the fortunate lawyers who has work — but wants to scale back — just consider the impact a part-time schedule could have on your career. We fully support prioritizing yourself or your family over your job but part-time attorneys, especially women, still have fewer advancement opportunities.

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