Women Now Make Up More Than Half of Law School Attendees
For the first time in history, more than half of the country’s law school students are women. It’s a slight margin, but according to data from the American Bar Association, the stats are as follows:
|Total law school students||55,766||55,059|
So now that more women in the U.S. are both attending law school and obtaining law degrees, this would seem to be a cause for celebration in gender equality efforts.
But not so fast. GoodCall spoke with 3 women lawyers who are cautiously optimistic, but believe that there is still work to be done.
First steps for women law school students
Avery Blank, a policy lawyer, women’s advocate, and impact strategist, tells GoodCall that she’s excited to see more women interested in the law profession. “But the fact still remains that the legal industry faces a challenge in retaining and advancing women once they graduate,” Blank says.
As such, admittance to law school is just the first step. Blank advises women students to identify sponsors both in and outside of law school. She also says companies should use this time wisely. “Law firms and other organizations must leverage this opportunity and the next three years to focus on their strategy and how they are going to help women begin, continue, and enjoy their careers in law,” Blank says.
And perhaps, this will dispel the notion that law is a man’s profession. Leslie H. Tayne of Tayne Law Group P.C., a New York state law practice concentrating in debt management, debt resolution and bankruptcy alternatives for consumers, small business owners and professionals, certainly hopes so.
“If more women are entering law school and becoming successful lawyers, then this will also reduce the pressure to work or behave in the same way as our male counterparts,” Tayne explains. As more women enter the field, she believes that it will lead to more acceptance and equal treatment.
“The legal industry is traditionally a ‘man’s career’ that leaves little work flexibility for women,” Tayne says. She cites a recent Pew study that found half of all working parents struggle to balance the demands of work with family responsibilities. “If more women take over the legal industry, then work flexibility might be more accepted for both men and women,” Tayne explains.
However, one obstacle to women taking over the legal profession is a failure to get their foot in the door. According to a recent report, “The Leaky Pipeline for Women Entering the Legal Profession,” women are less likely to attend the types of law schools that result in a high percentage of full-time, long-term jobs. There is also concern that law school graduates in general are having a harder time finding employment in the field.
Wage disparities for women
But placement isn’t the only issue. Dr. Erin Albert, a career coach and lawyer herself, believes that even if women dominate the field of law, they may experience one glaring disadvantage. “When women enter and ultimately dominate a professional field, it usually drives down wages, and this has been demonstrated in several professions,” Albert says.
A recent New York Times article supports Albert’s assertion. And this wage dynamic also works in reverse. For example, computer programming was initially dominated by women and a study reveals that as men took over this field, salaries began to increase.
Also, there’s currently a significant wage disparity in the upper echelon of the legal industry. A 2016 Partner Compensation Survey found that on average, male partners of the law firm earned $779,000 a year, compared to the $531,000 earned by female partners. The survey also revealed broad salary gaps depending on specialty areas. For example, labor and employment lawyers earned the least ($597,000), while corporate lawyers made $1.1 million.
However, as with other professions, if women are more likely to choose the lower-paying options, this will result in obvious pay gaps. For example, when analyzing the college majors dominated by each gender, women are more concentrated in the lowest-paying degree choices, while men dominate the highest-paying disciplines.
Is freelancing the answer?
However, freelancing provides an avenue for women in the legal profession to have more control over their careers. Albert says that more women than men are choosing to become freelancers, and sometimes they’re out earning their male counterparts.
“This is important particularly to the profession of law, where many lawyers in the recent economic downturn hung out a shingle and freelanced as independent lawyers on their own,” she says. If women end up dominating the law profession and choose the entrepreneurial route, Albert believes that this could result in women earning higher wages.