The New York State Bar Association has an on-line magazine called “The Complete Lawyer.” The most recent issue (available here) devotes plenty of megabytes to the question, “What Do Women Lawyers Really Want?” My first reaction to seeing the headline was, “Oh, no. Not this again.” Is what women want really such a mystery? I don’t think so.
Women want family leave and flexible schedules. We also want partners or family members who can help pick the kids up from school, do the laundry, pay the bills, plan the vacation, buy the birthday presents, get the car fixed, buy groceries, call the school back and find a nursing home for mom — all on the way to a meeting for which we are late.
We know what women want. The better article is about why we are not getting it. So I’d love to see the New York State Bar Association feature an article on, “Why the Legal Profession Hasn’t Changed Much Yet (and May not be the Big Problem).”
The structure of the legal profession (especially the despised Big Law Firm) undoubtedly contributes to many women’s professional discontent. Until more women and men in positions of power avail themselves of the touted “family-friendly” policies, they will remain policies, not practices. Also, law firms have a very simple profit structre: the more hours you work, the more money you make for the firm. What a young lawyer has to sell is her or his time, not expertise. And even in the case of the the senior lawyers who have extraordinary expertise, law firms aren’t that happy about footing the overhead and paying a big salary for the resident genius who doesn’t bill as much as the person sitting next to her or him.
But I doubt that the legal profession is the only factor, or even the main factor, in women lawyers’ professional discontent. The problem is not the job itself (although I’m all in favor of restructuring billing structures, compensation incentives, etc.). The problem is what women are expected to do when they are not engaged in paid labor. Women still work Arlie Hochschild’s second shift (and sometimes a third or fourth, too). Why are women not getting the help they want outside the paid labor force? Because in the overall scheme of things, men don’t gain much (in terms of economic or non-economic benefits) from helping them. Until it is desirable enough for men to engage in second- (and third- and fourth-) shift work, they won’t. Yoo-hoo, Aristophanes, how’d that Lysistrata thing go again?