From The Boston Globe:
… Female lawyers continue to face intractable challenges in their attempts to become partners, causing them to abandon law firm careers — and the legal profession entirely — at a dramatically higher rate than men, according to a local study to be released today.
The study echoes the findings of other recent major reports, but offers more detailed statistics and demographic data. It also aims to draw attention to the social consequences of this troubling exodus: As fewer women ascend to leadership positions in their firms, the pool of women qualified to become judges, law professors, business chiefs , and law firm managers is shrinking.
“This shows that we are reaching a crisis point when it comes to the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession, and therefore a crisis point when it comes to women leaders generally,” said Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a senior partner at the law firm Bowditch & Dewey and author of the book “Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law.”
For years, law firm leaders have insisted that as more women graduate from law school and enter private practice, the presence of women in leadership positions in the judiciary, in business, and in academia would grow correspondingly. But even though the gender gap in law firm hiring has been narrowing over the past decade, women are dropping off the partner track at alarming rates.
Of the 1,000 Massachusetts lawyers who provided data for the report, 31 percent of female associates had left private practice entirely, compared with 18 percent of male associates. The gap widens among associates with children, to 35 percent and 15 percent, respectively — reflecting the cultural reality that women remain the primary care givers of children and are therefore more likely to leave their firms for family reasons.
The dropout rate among women lawyers is overwhelmingly the result of the combination of demanding hours, inflexible schedules, lack of viable part-time options, emphasis on billable hours, and failure by law firms to recognize that female lawyers’ career trajectories may alternate between work and family, the report found.
The report, “Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership,” which was produced by the MIT Workplace Center in conjunction with several of the state’s major bar associations, is rife with devastating commentaries on law firm life, including one female lawyer’s remark that “I would not encourage my daughters to enter the legal profession.”
Among its findings:
Women make up only 17 percent of law firm partners.
Women leave the partnership track in far greater numbers than men.
Women stop pursuing partnership mainly because of the difficulty of combining work and child care.
Nearly 40 percent of women lawyers with children have worked part time, compared with almost no men, even though men in the profession have more children than women, on average.
Many firms have flextime policies but are “clever in discouraging their uses.” …
More about the report here, including:
The report tracks the career paths of nearly 1,000 women and men in Massachusetts law firms. The report shows revealing and inadequate firm responses to family factors affecting women:far more than men:which has resulted in a large scale exodus of women from the practice of law. The report also follows these women down their new career paths to organizations and companies that are more family-friendly:disproving the conjecture that women are choosing to stay at home rather than continue working in the legal field. Read the full summary of the report.