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Friday, March 11, 2011

Women's (Legal) History, Part 2: Where are we now?

By Kirsten E. Small

I had planned to do a timeline of female attorneys today--I'd done all my Googling and was all set to go. But I decided to go a diffferent direction after I got my morning feed from Law360. The feed included an article titled "Not So Sweet 16," by Patricia Gillette.

Why is 16 not so sweet? Because, as Pat points out, roughly 50 percent of law school graduates are women, but only about 16 percent of law firm partners are women. (Actually, the studies I've seen show that the number is more like 14.5 percent.) The percentage is about the same for female general counsels.

The numbers raise two questions: (1) Why? (2) What can/should we (meaning the legal communty writ large) do about it? Pat's article touches briefly on both subjects. As to the "why," Pat doesn't shy away from the reality that it's not all about the "old boys network." Female lawyers do, as she points out, engage in self-limiting behaviors: we tend not to claim credit where it is due, we don't like to make our demands known, we are, on the whole, a risk-averse bunch.

But none of us--men or women--can take comfort in the platitude that the lack of women partners and GCs is due to our own choices (having children, working part-time, not being interested in power). Bias, conscious and unconscious, is real and must be addressed.

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