Female attorneys may seem to be among the most empowered women in America, since they have the ability to influence legislation, protect human rights, and have a direct impact on the community. Women in the law are scholarly, aggressive, and confident, in advocating for their clients and for themselves.
The appearance of power
Women who work in major law firms, in a male-centric field, are all the more empowered, holding their own among men. This image of the empowered, legal-minded female should have young women flocking into the profession.
It’s a fact that women represent half of all law school students today, and legal associates can be broken down nationally into nearly equal numbers of men and women. But these numbers don’t hold for the top 200 law firms, where only four percent, or eight firms, have a female sitting in management or as partner.
The truth is, many women in 2014 still quit the legal profession to raise children or pursue other careers. Further, women who remain in the field harbor greater dissatisfaction with the industry, their firm, and public image than their male counterparts.
In short, law may be an industry centered on equality, but female lawyers are not the beneficiaries.
A substantial disconnect
The legal field thrives on disruptions and shifts in the greater society. Lawmakers and legal advocates push new policies and regulations to shape the world and motivate change in the social and business world.
But the firm working diligently to draft gender equality into corporate policy and legislation may also be the firm that keeps its females below the promotional line or neglects to move women into management.
So in fact, the field with a mission to change societal norms is the one that keeps them in place in its own house. Experts cite homogeneity and plain stubbornness as the cause for many law firms’ resistance to change.
How it happens
Studies have shown the zeal and boldness that motivate many recent female law school graduates disintegrate within the first few years of service in the field. Jeff Hampton, of Hampton Law Firm, P.L.L.C, has observed this decline.
As Hampton recalls, “In my years of experience in various firms, I have seen the shift. A young female associate comes in motivated to fight relentlessly, and a few years later, she drags herself to work. It isn’t from a lack of motivation in these women. From my experience, it is born from a lack of respect and reverence the male associates are receiving. It’s an injustice.”
Some unhappy women cite long hours and pressure to travel, while others speak of the negative nature of the work, including exposure to unethical practices in law and crime in general. Many women also feel disrespected, exploited, and harassed among and by male coworkers.
Other negative factors
Furthermore, women are still widely considered major caretakers and responsible parties in childbearing and raising, making the hours away from home more difficult for them. Women find it difficult to locate a strong mentor who’s a woman or otherwise understands the predicament of women in law.
Female associates are wary of mentorship by male partners or management because of the missing link of empathy. Mentors who are women are much more rare, and many came up during an era when female lawyers expected to be treated poorly.
In 2014, community expectations and perceptions of women in business and in general are shifting. If more empowered females can retain their voices and voracity for success in law, experts believe a trickle-down will happen, and bring empowerment to other lines of work as well as for homemaking mothers.
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