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Author Topic: Why so few female partners at top firms?  (Read 3880 times)

Dolcejn

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Why so few female partners at top firms?
« on: May 30, 2005, 07:34:03 AM »
The more I read, the more I get discouraged.  Go to law.com and look at all the surveys about the 'hot' lawyers (same with lawyer.com, look at the Hot 100).  At least lawyer.com notes the fact that there are about 8 women out of the 100 (actually maybe less).  The author attributes that to many women dropping out of law in their 30s, perhaps for family reasons.  The big law firms online reflect the same disparity: very few female partners.  Is this a hangover from the 70's?  Or a mentality that will continue? Kind of an old boys' club thing? Or is it completely a result of women preferring to spend time with family rather than at the workplace?  Perhaps the the fact that women HAVE to leave work in order to have kids (face it, we're the ones who have to carry the child), they automatically get shunted to the side?
HLS

tacojohn

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2005, 07:55:54 AM »
The law is the most conservative profession in the world.  Not politically per se, but just that everything about the law is done with the status quo.  While HP and eBay are willing to "take risks" with female CEO (I use that term lightly), law firms are not willing to "take a chance" with a female partners.  I also think childbirth does play a factor in it.  A law firm should respect maternity leave, but I could see law firm partners saying "She wants to have a baby?  Probably just can't handle the heat."

It'll take a different type of big law firm to change things.  One that is fairly innovative.

Trel

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2005, 09:12:37 AM »
I'd say having a kid is the main issue...women have to choose between partnership and having a family, and most choose family.  Let's say the average person at a top LS graduates at 27, since many schools like to see some prior WE.  Most firms have a 7-9 yr partnership track, which means the woman has to work her butt off till age 34/36 at the very least, and if she makes partner, she certainly can't just get up and take maternity leave.  Her child bearing years are basically gone. 

It's not a choice men have to make, couple that with the conservative atmosphere of many top firms, and you can see why there are so few female partners.  Plus it's not unusual for men to marry younger women, so even if the guy doesn't have a chance to start a family till age 40, he can marry a woman who is only 30 or even younger in many cases.  A woman is highly unlikely to start a family at age 40.
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geni

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2005, 11:43:47 AM »
I think that the previous posters are correct.  I think women often feel they must choose between their careers and their families.  And I also believe that there is still some of the old boys' club mentality going on. 

But... I believe that if making partner is important to you,  you can certainly acheive that goal.  Balancing work and family will not be easy, but I believe that it is entirely possible.  And I also believe that the old boys will eventually recognize that they can benefit from having women in positions of power, especially when women stand up and insist on being recognized. 


gatechgrad2004

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2005, 12:23:12 PM »
When did being a mother become a bad thing?  I always thought it was the most important profession, and I have the utmost respect for a woman that decides to become one. 

If a woman decides to raise a family rather than solely pursue a legal career (or any career), why do some people assume some man is to blame or brand her a failure?

Of course I am a guy, so what do i know?   :)

geni

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2005, 01:12:28 PM »
When did being a mother become a bad thing? 

Being a mother is not a bad thing!  I have three kids and I plan on finding a balance between motherhood and my career. Having been a stay-at-home mom for the last 8 years, I totally understand why some women choose to leave their legal career in favor of focusing on their family. 

I chose to be a mom while I was younger, and stayed home while my kids were little, with the idea that once I got into my career I wouldn't have to make that choice between leaving my career to stay home or leaving my kids in daycare so I could work.  Since my kids will all be school age by the time I am an attorney and I am done having kids, I won't be going out on maternity leave.  I can focus on my career now.  Of course, since I have kids, I will still have to find that balance.  But I think it will be easier than having a new baby while also working.

Dolcejn

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2005, 01:24:09 PM »
Great points, Trel and taco.

And goodness gracious, gatech, I did not mean to imply that having a baby was a bad thing!  And I think previous posters did not mean to 'blame' men.  They were simply pointing out a very real, concrete difference between the sexes: when a husband and wife want to have a child, it is the woman whose career must suffer because of biological differences.  Furthermore, it is a societal expectation that women contribute more to the household than men (I don't mean financially, I mean time-wise).  While I don't think anyone would blame men for this, many would argue that - in the interest of equity in the workplace and in society - there should be some way to level the playing field (mandatory paternity leave, for example).   

Phanatic, I don't believe that all women 'decide' this.  On the contrary, I think most women would like to balance career with family.  Some women do choose family exclusively, some choose career exclusively.  But I think the majority prefer to have a balance, but have unreasonable demands placed on them (for example, and as I noted above, the expectation that they be 'superwomen' and excel in the home and at the workplace).  And nope, I meant a hangover from the 70s, when fewer women attended law school than now.

By the by, I am not on some crusade.  I simply think that there is a remarkable disparity at the top levels of the top law firms between men and women, and was wondering what was at the root of this.   
HLS

Melinda

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2005, 01:47:39 PM »
My dad's law firm has 100 lawyers, and 40 of which are partners.  A handful are women.  I respect all these women a lot, and the have all definately encouraged me to go on to law school.  The one thing I notice is that none are married with children.  Some are married without children, and have a strain on the relationship being the more successful partner.  A couple are divorced with kids.  One I have gotten close with has never been married, and states it is hard to find men when she works so much.  Many men are intimidated, or want to freeload, ect. 

When I started thinking about law school seriously this was one thing I talked with my dad about.  Can I have a "normal" life, married with kids, take the kids to soccer practice, ect.  I decided I do not want to work at a big firm my entire career.  I am working for LA county right now in dependency law, and plan to take that route.  Less stress, less hours at work, no billible hour crunch, no ethical dilemmas (although I am sure there will be some), ect.  I worked in private practice in the past and really hope I will not have to go back to it.

J D

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2005, 02:02:02 PM »
I don't know about that stereotype.  Gender norms and stereotypes notwithstanding, throughout history there throughout history have been many examples of women who were ruthless, vicious, and merciless:  Boudica of the Iceni, Hōjō Masako, the "B!tch of Buchenwald," etc.  I think women can be just as merciless and ruthless when it comes to trial law.  Just read "Class Action" by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler; pay special attention to the lawyer who represented the Eveleth Mining Co., Mary Stumo.  That should remove all doubt.
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Lgirl

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Re: Why so few female partners at top firms?
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2005, 02:52:08 PM »
I considered a career with the British Foreign Office. I worked at the Embassy in Paris, and there were some fantastic, charismatic women, but most of the employees were nevertheless men, and the women mostly unmarried. In the Foreign Office you move countries every four years, making it very difficult to set up a home or meet someone, and one spouse has to follow the other, meaning that one doesn't work (it's difficult to move jobs every four years and to do so in different countries). Of course, it is always the women who do the following. That depressed me and, knowing I want a family life, I decided against pursuing that career despite finding the work fascinating. A real shame, but gender disparities etc. are definitely still there.
I plan on working in biglaw and then moving to a smaller firm once i have a family. I couldn't give up on my career entirely, nor could I stand letting my child be effectively brought up by somebody else. It would kill me. The balance can be struck though - I firmly believe that. But unfortunately, I just don't believe a woman can be a biglaw partner and have a very rewarding family life. Sorry if that's controversial but 8am-9pm   is just too long at work to allow for maeningful time with one's children and spouse.