Why Do Women Lawyers Leave?

Almost 40% of women leave the profession of law mid-career.  That is 2 to 3 times as many women as men, and it is a high percentage. For people outside the profession, it can appear to be lunacy to leave a high-paying job in a respectable profession.  So, why do so many women lawyers leave a profession that has required a dedication of so much of their time and money?

Some of the reasons that women leave are very personal, but others fall into common categories.  One of those common reasons, of course, is the work-life challenge that women face as the bearers of the children and the primary care-takers in most families.

But, what are the others?  Some of them may surprise you.  According to a recent article in Huffington Post Business, those reasons include failing to find meaning in the work, being surrounded by toxic or dysfunctional environments or people, and unappealing role models.  Although you cannot plan for some of these, others should be more obvious to you when you are researching job opportunities or interviewing.  So, you may have more control over these things than you think.  If that is the case, be sure that you TAKE CONTROL.

Let’s break these reasons down a little:

  • The work-life challenges:  For many women lawyers, the challenge is trying to work at the office like men and raise children at home like women.  Law firms generally operate on an “up or out” rule, and this leaves women at a crossroads.  Do they stay in the job to work themselves up to partner — or do they leave while they still have some options to a full-time commitment in a demanding profession?  Those women lawyers with children are apt to find the long road to partnership and the time away from family particularly unappealing;
  • Lack of meaning in the work:  Women especially need to feel that they are appreciated and are performing meaningful work.  Most women do not flourish in situations where they are made to feel like cogs in the wheel.  Experience tells us that women are very loyal as a group if they are treated well and feel like they are performing important work.  “Inclusion” is a big issue for women, as discussed in one of my past blogs devoted to that subject. However, the law profession and legal settings do not always provide those feelings of inclusion and can be much more isolating.  A certain amount of what lawyers do also can be repetitive and boring, a result of the specialization that has taken over our profession in the last decade.  Clearly, it is not all like the excitement of an episode of Ally McBeal or even Perry Mason ;
  • Toxic or dysfunctional environments or people:  Environments that include verbal abuse and pressure from clients and management are anxiety-creating and should be avoided.  There is not enough money in the world to make you want to be in such an environment.  Pay close attention to your surroundings when you are choosing a job and a business culture; and
  • Unappealing role models:  Too many young women lawyers do not have positive role models in their firms and organizations.  So many women lawyers dropped out in the 80′s and 90′s, and, as a result, there now is a dearth of women lawyers in management and leadership.  Many of the women at high levels of management and leadership have sacrificed much of what the young women today hold dear, e.g., families and children, and the young women cannot identify with these senior lawyers.

There is no question that this failure to identify with or embrace the work is a serious dilemma for young women lawyers.  It also is becoming a serious dilemma for young male lawyers, but the young women seem to experience it more significantly because of their unique roles as women, wives, mothers and family caretakers.  Even with these drawbacks, however, many young women lawyers report satisfaction with the mental challenge of the job, interaction with smart and skilled colleagues, the opportunity to learn new things and acquire new skills and, of course, the relative high salaries paid to lawyers.

How do you gauge your professional happiness?  Where are you on the spectrum?  Keep this list on your desktop and consult it from time to time.  Think about those questions and how you would answer them.   Sometimes the problem does not require a change of profession as much as it requires a change of culture or surroundings. 

You also need to be careful not to overreact to your circumstances.  After all, it is called “work” because it is not “play.”  Important jobs take commitment and sacrifice.  The key is knowing how much.




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Thought For The Day

If a man wants his dreams to come true, he must wake them up. (Also true for a woman!)

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Achieving Gender Diversity from One of America’s Top Lawyers

Mary Cranston is one of America’s best-known women lawyers — or just plain best-known lawyers.  She was a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and served as its Chairman of the Board.  She has been named one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by the National Law Journal, one of two “Best Law Firm Leaders in the United States” by Of Counsel and has been profiled as “One of the Best Female Antitrust Lawyers in the World” by Global Competition Review. She was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Margaret Brent Award, the American Bar Association’s highest award for women lawyers, who demonstrate legal excellence and help pave the way for other women lawyers.

So, when Mary Cranston speaks, people listen.  She recently spoke to an audience in New Zealand, and this article in LawFuel captures the essence of her message.   Here is what she has to say about achieving gender diversity in law practice.  I think you would agree that she knows the subject well and brings great experience and vision to the discussion.  She is starting at the top to identify the responsibilities that law firms must take in finding solutions to this important issue.  Here is a summary of what Mary Cranston has to say about achieving gender diversity in law firms:

3 Things Law Firms Need to Do to Achieve Gender Diversity:

  • Push from the top:  There must be leadership from the top not just lip service.  The leaders must understand unconscious bias.  An example is identifying women as having less potential for leadership unless there is an intervention.  Women get perceived as specialists with no bandwidth.  All leadership and all employees, up and down the line, need to be aware of unconscious bias.
  • Put the women in the top jobs and let them prove themselves.  Give them a chance instead of making unfounded assumptions.
  • Give women gender training so that they can recognize and control gender stereotyping better.  Women have some of the same gender stereotypes about themselves that men have about them, and that is why women have inner doubts about their competencies.  They have to be taught how to avoid those stereotypes and not play into them.

Think about it and discuss it in your law firm’s Women’s Initiative and Diversity Committee.  Also discuss it in your bar associations, especially your women’s bar associations.

Pass it on and make it work for all of us!



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Thought For The Day

Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those [birds] that sang best.

Henry Van Dyke

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Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.

James Baldwin

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Is Being Waitlisted for Law School Your Problem?

It is that time of year again.  Prospective students have applied to law schools, and some are being waitlisted.  That can be both a hopeful and a frustrating experience, depending on the school and the applicant’s expectations, and there is a certain amount of protocol you should know to handle the situation wisely and adeptly.  “Storming the Bastille” and sending the waitlisting school reams of additional paperwork and electronic files — evidencing your credentials and acceptance worthiness — may not be the best idea.

So, what it the best way to handle being waitlisted?  Fortunately, this question has been asked and answered many times, but this may be your first encounter with it.  In that case, I recommend the following article to you.

“Waitlisted by Law Schools?  5 Tips on Maximizing Your Chances of Getting In” appeared on the Above the Law blog recently, and it contains some pretty good guidance on issues like Supplemental Essays or Materials, Letters of Continued Interest, Additional Recommendations, and more fundamental issues like the importance of taking time off before entering law school and considerations in the transfer decision.

Although you may think that you have the answers on these issues, don’t be surprised to find that you may be a little off-base.  At the very least, it is a good read to sharpen your focus as you go through the agonizing waiting period.  It can take most of the summer to get accepted off a law school waitlist, and the temptation is to do something to get the attention of the admissions dean and the admissions committee.  Not so fast!  Or, if you do go that route, make sure that you are following a prudent path that may actually result in success.  Resist the temptation for gimmicks, and try to put yourself in the positions of the decision-makers.  How would your proposed acceptance tactic “play in Peoria” so to speak?

My favorite part of the Above the Law article addresses the subject of additional recommendations.  Much of the advice was based on an interview with a former admissions dean at a very prestigious law school.  Here are some things from that interview to consider before requesting an additional letter of recommendation:

  • Assess your application “holistically” to identify weaknesses and reasons that you were waitlisted.  Think about adding a letter of recommendation that can bolster your application on that particular issue;
  • Try to figure out what your other recommenders have said about you and use that information to calculate the likelihood that another letter from that same person would be helpful; and
  • In asking for the additional recommendation, make if very clear what you need the proposed writer to say on your behalf.  If the proposed writer is reluctant to say that, you need to know it and find someone else to help you out.

As you can see, it takes a lot of thought.  This is no time for impetuous action.  Read the article, factor in your particular circumstances, and make an informed decision.

Waiting is difficult.  But patience is a virtue.








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Thought For The Day

It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.

George Horace Lorimer

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Thought For The Day

Remember Boston!  Strength, courage and resolve.  Lessons for us all.

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