Major Steps Backwards for Women in the Law – I Don’t Have More Than a Lifetime to Wait – Do You?

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Over the last six months there have been a number of disturbing studies and reports issued documenting that women are losing ground in our strides towards equality in the legal profession.

The National Law Journal reported this past week about the declining number of women law students who serve as editor-in-chief of the flagship law reviews at ABA-accredited law schools.  The report, which can be accessed here,  followed up on an initial Gender Diversity Report by Ms. JD and was conducted in collaboration with New York Law School.

The Women on Law Review report is distressing – the number of women editors in chief in 2011-2012 was 28.6%, down 5% from the last study for the period of 2008-2010.  Researchers are now asking, with the widening gap in gender equity on law review leadership, how this correlates to the low numbers of women on the state and federal benches.  In fact the Center for Women on Government and Civil Society released a report earlier this year (here) which notes that women occupy only 27.1% of seat on the bench (and this is a slight increase of .5% over last year).

This month the ABA Journal reports (here) that  a lack of growth opportunities for women in law firms may be responsible for the decrease in enrollment of female students in law schools.  The article recounts how in 1993 women accounted for 50% of entering law students, and two decades later the number is down to a national average of 46.8%, but it is as low as 40% at some schools.

In September of this year, the ABA Commission on Women in Legal Profession released their annual, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law,” which confirms the low percentages of women in positions of leadership within all categories of the profession.

What is even more distressing is Catalyst’s July 2012 data on Women in the Law in the U.S. which reveals  significant gender gaps and posits that given the (slow) rate of change, it will take more than a woman lawyer’s lifetime to achieve equality.

We don’t have more than a lifetime to wait, and we need to wake up before the work of those who came before us is unraveled even more.

-Patricia Salkin

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2 Responses to Major Steps Backwards for Women in the Law – I Don’t Have More Than a Lifetime to Wait – Do You?

  1. JohnSteele says:

    It is disappointing to see backsliding. I’ve been worried that the increasing cost of law school coupled with diminished expected returns will skew who enrolls. At the margin, shouldn’t those changes make law school comparatively more attractive for upper middle class people who contemplate a long uninterrupted run at the full-time practice of law? Law school cost and the economic value of a law degree are powerful drivers of exclusion in the profession and, unfortunately, both of those drivers have become more extreme.

  2. JohnSteele says:

    I probably meant “won’t” not “shouldn’t,” as I was trying to make the point that we’re likely to see backsliding at the margin and that that’s a bad thing.

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