Where Do Women Stand in the Practice of Law Today?

As you may be aware, this blog started out in 2009 for women lawyers.  My first three books were for women only, so that made sense.  I am happy to say that the status of women in the legal profession has improved significantly since that time, and I like to think that projects like Best Friends at the Bar and others have helped make that difference.

So, just exactly how are women lawyers faring in the profession today?  Forbes has published an article with some interesting statistics, which I think will interest all of you — even my male readers, who may be married to women lawyers or have women lawyers as members of their teams.  Here are some excerpts, which I found particularly interesting.

Between 2013 and 2023, the Percentage of Female Lawyers Increased From 34% to 39%

Women have been making great strides within the legal field. The percentage of male lawyers declined from 66% to 61% over the past decade as the percentage of female lawyers increased from 34% to 39%.

With women increasingly outpacing men in educational achievement—more females than males earned college degrees according to recent Census data—this comes as no surprise.

27.76% of Law Firm Partners Were Women in 2023 Compared to 20.22% in 2013

Achieving partnership in a law firm is the ultimate goal of many legal professionals, and it is one of the highest levels of professional attainment for those within the legal industry. Women are increasingly reaching this level of professional success.

More than a quarter,27.76%, of all law firm partners were women in 2023. This is a significant increase compared to 2013, when women accounted for just 20.22% of law firm partners across the United States.¹

One-third of Active Court of Appeals, District Court, Magistrate and Bankruptcy judges are women

Women are also playing an increasing role in interpreting the law rather than just practicing the law. Women now make up one-third of all active U.S. judges serving in Courts of Appeals, District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, and as magistrate judges.

Although these statistics demonstrate significant gains for women lawyers, there is still important work to be done to achieve parity.  For lawyer/mothers, this is particularly true and important for their professional growth.

But we must celebrate success where we find it.  So, bravo to the women behind those statistics!

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The Equal Credit Opportunity Act Turns 50!

Do you know that a woman could not get a personal loan or a credit card without permission from her husband, father or brother until just 50 years ago?  Yes, those of you with mothers or aunts who became independent adults prior to 1974 were out of luck — in term of loans and credit at least.

And so it is that, on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), US News provides an important history lesson for you.  The article describes in some detail, complete with charts, the circumstances that existed in the days before 1974 when women’s financial decisions were completely controlled by men and institutions.  It did not matter how much personal money a woman had accumulated from her own hard work or how much money she might have inherited from her family.  All that mattered was that she was female and, as perceptions had it at the time, she was presumed to be inept at finances and, therefore, a bad credit risk.

The ECOA is of particular interest to me.  As a second-year lawyer in 1980, my law firm assigned me work for Merrill Lynch on cases involving credit unions.  In the course of that work, I was shocked to discover how close I had become to being denied access to personal credit.  The topic of the ECOA intrigued me, and I wrote a law review article about it.  That article, Credit Opportunity for Women:  The ECOA and its Effects, Wisconsin Law Review, Volume 1981, Number 4, is an in-depth history of the ECOA, the constitutional basis for the law, and the regulations promulgated pursuant to the law.

The effort was substantial and also involved me delivering a paper on the subject before an audience of members of the DC Women’s Bar Association and students at my alma mater Georgetown Law.  And all at the same time I was overwhelmed with billable hours!  But it was worth it, and I was proud to have authored the very first law review article on the subject.

So, if you need a closer look at the mandates and mechanics of the ECOA, feel free to take a deep dive into that 1981 law review article.  Or just be satisfied with the short course, compliments of the US News article.

Either way, it is worth knowing the history and how far women have come in the last 50 years in establishing their financial independence.  And it will make clear why we cannot take any of these achievements for granted.

 

 

 

 

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Thought For The Week: “The beginning of wisdom is to do away with fear.” Yohannes Gebregeorgis

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Calling All Lawyers Who Want to Skip the Bar Exam

Sitting for a bar exam is a pain.  Almost everyone who has ever done it agrees, and those who do not agree are either certifiable legal geniuses or want you to believe that they aced the exam because they are SO amazing.  But for the rest of us, it is definitely a pain.

But, now you have choices.  In addition to those presented by Wisconsin, which has a state law school graduation exception, other states are adopting alternative requirements for licensure.  Washington and Oregon are the most recent states to eliminate the requirement for bar exam passage in recognition of alternatives like apprentiseships and internships, which arguably present greater opportunities for learning how to practice law.

Washington State is the most recent jurisdiction to present these alternatives to bar passage, doing so last month in March 2024.    Read about it here.  The task force in Washington, which examined the issue, found that the bar exam is “at best minimally effective for ensuring competent lawyers,” and I quite agree.  At most, bar exams reward the powers of memorization, and that is a far cry from preparing competent lawyers.  Passing a bar exam does not put a law school graduate anywhere even close to knowing how to file a motion, represent a client in court, write a contract, negotiate a settlement or myriad other fundamentals that demonstrate competence to practice.

As I have stated before on this blog, I am very familiar with the Wisconsin Diploma Privilege program whereby graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School or Marquette University Law School are allowed to become licensed without writing a bar exam.  And I know quite a few Wisconsin lawyers.  There is absolutely no argument that the competence of members of the Wisconsin Bar is diminished as a result of Diploma Privilege, and that is apparently why the statute allowing Diploma Privilege has been in existence for almost 100 years.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So, as someone who has taken two bar exams and is licensed in both jurisdictions and who falls on the side of REALLY disliking bar exams, I could not be happier to see the alternatives becoming more popular.

 

 

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Happy International Women’s Day! Here’s an Interview for You

The celebration of International Women’s Day is a great time to also celebrate women lawyers.  Women lawyers have come so far since I started Best Friends at the Bar for them almost 20 years ago.

Here is an interview that I think that you will find interesting and which includes the achievements for women lawyers and the challenges that remain.  It is a really pragmatic approach to succeeding as a woman lawyer.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Learning from History During Women’s History Month

During Women’s History Month, I think it is appropriate to look at how far women lawyers have come since 155 years ago when Arabella Mansfield was the first woman admitted to a state bar.  To understand this history and put it in context, I refer you to “The Truth About Women Litigators” by Anne Redcross Beehler, an article which was included in a recent Holland and Knight law firm newsletter.   You will be interested, I think, and amazed, in some situations, to hear some of what women litigators put up with in the past and how different it is today.

I am one of those litigators, having started in practice in 1979 when there were relatively few women lawyers and when I joined a law firm of 25 men, most of them litigators.  It was a bumpy ride to be sure, but I survived and flourished.  There were not any senior women lawyers there to give me guidance, and I had to figure it out on my own.

However, I do not want any of you to have to figure it all out alone.  Not at all.  I am one of those women lawyers who is comfortable having you stand on my shoulders and who thinks that mentoring young lawyers is my responsibility as a professional.

If you are reluctant to read the article because you are not a litigator, do not let that stop you.  So many of the concepts that you will read about are more important as a matter of gender and not of practice specialty.  They are very transferable into other areas of practice.

That is, with the exception of some experiences in the courtroom.  I doubt that many female transactional lawyers in my day experienced a federal judge address her as “woman, girl or whatever you people want to be called these days.”  And that judge did not stop at one such inappropriate remark.  He must have liked the sound of it because it was a constant theme when I was in his courtroom.  Even when I was winning!

Enjoy the article.  Pay attention to the advice for the future as well as the outrageous stories from the past.  It is the present and the future where you can use your role as an influencer to make a difference that will continue to improve the profession for women.

Vive les femmes!

 

 

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Thought For The Week: “In each of us are places where we have never gone. Only by pressing the limits do you ever find them.” Joyce Brothers

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Perfection as the Enemy of Good

I have been writing and lecturing about perfection as the enemy of good for many years.  It was a very important topic of discussion when my work centered on mentoring young women lawyers, but the downfalls of perfectionism are not limited to women.  Men fall victim to perfectionism just as well.

I am a member or the DC Bar and have been for the last 45 years.  I have published in the bar magazine, Washington Lawyer, and I also enjoy the articles there.  One article captioned “The Enemy of Good” caught my attention in the most recent edition.  The author, Denise Perme, starts out this way:

Many [lawyers] suffer an insidious trait that masquerades as a virtue, causing us much pain and, only occasionally, pleasure.  It’s call perfectionism.”  And, as the article makes clear, it can easily become an obsession.  Perfectionism is toxic.

Perfectionism is to be avoided as the “dangerous traitor” it is, which stifles creativity , innovation and progress.  You may be familiar with some of these dangers either because you are a perfectionist or because you know someone who is.

If you see the signs of perfectionism in yourself, do not think it will go away easily.  It will not.  You have to be proactive.  Here is a helpful list of suggestions, which appear at the end of Ms. Perme’s article, for becoming less focused on perfection:

  • Challenge your thoughts and assumptions.  Catch yourself when you are [overreacting], examine the evidence, and do a reality check about the validity of your fears;
  • Replace negative self-talk with something positive [like], “You know you can do it; it does not have to be perfect.  There is a reason they trust you to write this”;
  • Do some “exposure therapy” by allowing yourself to have small failures. … Send an email that you know has a typo;
  • Find other sources of self worth outside of work [like] regular exercise, sports, or an art class;
  • Talk to people you trust and who can talk you down.  It is important to have a sounding board; and
  • Engage collaboratively with colleagues so you aren’t carrying the whole weight of the “perfect” on your shoulders.

Be aware.  Perfectionism is sneaky and gets out of control easily.  Don’t let it control you.

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