It’s no secret that there are significantly fewer female partners in law firms than their male counterparts. According to the American Bar Association, women make up approximately 50% of law school enrollment and more than half of the J.D.s that are eventually awarded. When women start out as associates they make up about 44.7% of the attorneys in private practice. However, women only make up 21.5% of the partners and 18% of the equity partners in law firms.
Staying on the partner track becomes infinitely more difficult when there aren’t very many role models to look to as examples. This is especially true when you plan on having children. At my last two law firms, there were two women partners and only one of them had children. I have worked at law firms where no one in a management position had children at all. When there are so few women in leadership roles at law firms, it is difficult to picture yourself successfully rising to that level. When I started at my current firm, I made sure that there were several women at the firm in general and women in partnership roles.
I have also encountered circumstances where some women associates take a backseat after having children. When I asked why this was the case, I was told that I could have this too if I wanted to make less money and go on the “mommy track”. Just referring to this choice as the “mommy track” was offensive to me. These women associates are frequently putting in the same time and effort. This is especially true when their cases have out-of-town appearances and pending trial dates.
Women should not have to decide between the “mommy track” and the partnership track. Men also have children, but no one ever asks them if they want to go on the “daddy track”. It is expected that if men have children that they will continue along the partner track after the baby is born. Some measure of flexibility in work hours would also be helpful. We are lucky enough to work in a profession in which work can be done after hours and from home. Women (and all) attorneys should be able to take advantage of this.
This would be very clear if there were more women in positions of authority at law firms. The confidence of women in their ability to reach that level would grow. Women attorneys would have someone to look toward as an example. Overall, and perhaps most importantly, there would be more confidence in the legal community that women can succeed and thrive in leadership positions.
This blog post was authored by Jillian Fairchild