The Career Journey of a Female Lawyer

Owner at Stacey E. Burke, P.C.
Mar. 22, 2021

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The Career Journey of a Female Lawyer

  1. THE CAREER JOURNEY OF A FEMALE LAWYER Anglia Ruskin University Law Society presents
  3. AS A LAWYER, I DEALT WITH: • Colleagues making unprovoked comments, engaging in unprovoked touching (e.g. putting a pen down my dress, putting arms around me), and not taking a female lawyer as seriously as my male counterparts. • Having to pack and/or plan a full wardrobe for multi-day events like depositions or mediations. All men wear boring suits, but if a woman wears the same outfit two days in a row, everyone will notice.
  4. AS A LAWYER, I DEALT WITH: • Being asked by a white male lawyer if I was a family member in a multi- million dollar mediation because I was the only woman there. • Being asked by a white male lawyer to get him coffee right before a deposition started because I was the youngest in the room and the only female, so I was presumed to be an assistant.
  5. AS A LAWYER, I DEALT WITH: • Never being promoted (in title or in salary) at my first job but learning that soon after I left a younger, less-experienced, and far inferiorly skilled white male lawyer was promoted. • I was only offered a competitive salary once I quit.
  6. AS A LAWYER, I DEALT WITH: • The expectation that – as a woman – you are not worth as much as a male hire because you will leave to get married and/or procreate. • Having children and bearing the responsibility for raising them, which forced me to leave the profession for part of that time, putting me (and many other women) at a serious trajectory disadvantage.
  7. AS A LAWYER, I DEALT WITH: • Not getting an equal opportunity to try cases (or even sit in court at the counsel table) because at that time federal judges in Texas could be sexist. • Some judges still are sexist / very conservative and require women to wear skirts and pantyhose (no pantsuits).
  9. AS A LAWYER, I WAS PROUD TO SEE: • A name partner tell a young, shy female associate that she was not obligated to give a creepy, much older, and very married referral attorney her cell phone number just because the firm did millions of dollars in business with him and he asked for it. • At a business development event my firm hosted, having a name partner observe an inebriated male lawyer put his arms around me. The partner walked over and pulled me aside to ask if I was okay and to remind me that I do not have to let anyone touch me as part of my job. He also offered to let the man know this if I wanted.
  10. AS A LAWYER, I WAS PROUD TO SEE: • One of the best trial lawyers in the world introduce me as his law partner to people who would not otherwise have paid attention to me as a younger, MUCH less well known female attorney.
  12. AS A MARKETER, I SEE WOMEN ATTORNEYS STRUGGLE WITH: • Branding language and taglines: women must make sure the language they use in marketing materials is innuendo-free and non-suggestive. • Headshots and professional photos: women must consider a variety of factors that will be scrutinized and judged that men don’t, including how much makeup to wear, how to pose, how much cleavage to show, the “trendiness” of the outfit, what jewelry is appropriate, and more. • Professional biographies: men mentioning children is often a badge of honor, while as a woman, mentioning children can be seen as a detriment or hinderance to their potential performance. I am routinely told by female lawyers to exclude any reference to a family from their marketing.
  13. AS A MARKETER, I SEE WOMEN ATTORNEYS STRUGGLE WITH: • Business development: many traditional business development activities – golf, hunting, playing or attending sporting events – are male dominated and women are often intentionally excluded. • Client relationships: many lawyers socialize both with each other and with clients surrounding alcohol. Women attorneys having drinks alone with males can lead to perception issues and unwanted advances, even when entirely unfounded.
  14. AS A MARKETER, I SEE WOMEN ATTORNEYS STRUGGLE WITH: • Booking speaking engagements: most legal industry panels and presentations are still very white male dominated, and those looking for diversity often add speakers based on “characteristics” instead of quality. • Even events focusing on diversity and gender equality often have all white male panels, even when women are planning the events, as many people are conditioned to believe that men are the “experts.”
  16. SEXISM IN THE COURTROOM • Law schools now have gender balance in their student bodies, so women seem to be as interested in practicing law as men; but, as law student gender balance has equalized, career attachment for females has decreased. • This could be because approximately 70% of female attorneys surveyed by the Defense Research Institute reported experiencing gender bias in the courtroom (e.g., being called “honey”). Sexism infects every kind of courtroom encounter, from pretrial motions to closing arguments, making it clear how difficult it will be to eradicate gender bias not just from the practice of law, but from society as a whole.
  17. AN EXODUS OF WOMEN LAWYERS Unemployed or Under- Employed Women in the best position to advance gender equality are leaving full-time employment at very high rates. About 30% of female lawyers are unemployed or under-employed (working less than 20 hours per week) during their prime career-building years—ages 35–40. Childcare Leave While a greater portion of male attorneys take childcare leave today (3.2%) compared to the 1980s (0.8%), the percentage of female attorneys who take childcare leave has increased even more, from 31.9% to 39.6%. According to Harvard Business Review, law firm partnerships are still dominated by men, but not as a direct result of women voluntarily leaving legal practice.
  18. PLAUSIBLE EXPLINATIONS: • Discrimination in hiring, promotion, salary negotiations, and case assignment. • Self-selection based on cultural, biological, and other such reasons. • Asymmetrical cultural pressures, such as men being expected to work for most of their lives while women are given more leniency to choose whether or not to work if finances aren’t an issue – in this way, men are more constrained than women and benefit from it in their careers. • Family obligations, as many women are biologically predestined to be pregnant, give birth, and deal with the lion’s share of the early childhood responsibilities of their offspring.