This article examines the drastic organizational changes that have taken place in law firms and law schools in the last thirty years and how they have seriously disadvantaged women.
Women have been almost 50% of law school graduating classes nationally for the last fifteen to twenty years. They have graduated with all the traditional indicia of success, including law review participation and high honors. Many have been judicial clerks, although not in proportion to their numbers and academic success. However, women have not progressed in proportionate numbers to the highest ranks of the legal profession – equity partnerships and law firms and tenured full professorships in law schools.
In the 1960’s, it was seven years up or out to equity partner in law firms and to tenured full professor in law schools. Today, many large firms have extended the partnership track to nine to twelve years to a new category of non-equity partner, with another three to five years to equity partner. Billable hours did not exist in the 1960s; they are now between 2,000 and 2,500 and growing.
A young woman graduating from law school at twenty-five loses her child bearing years if she goes for equity partner. Successful professional men are married with children. Successful professional women are too often unmarried and without children. Women who want a life are presented with several new options at law firms. They can go part-time, they can become permanent Associates, non-equity Partners, Of Counsel, Legal Specialists, non-partner Administrators, or members of the new expanding category of Contract Lawyers. Agencies now supply hundreds of temporary lawyers to large firms.
At the same time there are fewer and fewer equity partners, thereby upping the “earnings per equity partner.” The gap between the highest paid lawyers in a firm and the lowest paid has grown larger.
Law schools have also changed drastically in the last 30 years. Full time faculty now consist of a limited number of tenured and tenure track professors with an emphasis on multi-disciplinary and research expertise, growing numbers of full time specialized clinical, legal writing, and other skills teachers, expanding numbers of lower level administrators with some teaching responsibilities, and exploding numbers of adjuncts teaching both substantive and skills courses.
Status, money, and job security go to tenured and tenure track teachers. There are strong indications that this category is reverting back to being a white, male preserve. An individual will be hired as an entry level tenure-track Assistant Professor only with an already established publication record. Few women with family responsibilities can manage this. Additionally, highly qualified women of all colors are being steered to lower paying, lower status, less secure contract and at will positions.