Female partners at law firms

The NYT’s Timothy O’Brien has a long

article today – which immediately hit the top of the Most E-Mailed

List – headlined "Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms?"

O’Brien gives a comprehensive overview of the problem and possible causes.

But let me add my own, which is hinted at near the bottom of the piece:

Over the last two decades, as law firms have devoted themselves more keenly

to the bottom line, depression and dissatisfaction rates among both female

and male lawyers has grown, analysts say; many lawyers of both genders have

found their schedules and the nature of their work to be dispiriting.

"I see a lot of people who are distressed about where the profession

has gone," Ms. Rikleen says. "They don’t like being part of a billable-hour

production unit. They want more meaning out of their lives than that."

Let’s make a few assumptions here:

  1. Lawyers in big law firms are increasingly unhappy with their work.
  2. Most lawyers marry and have children.
  3. Most women marry a man who earns more than they do – this is true

    even of high-earning women.

Do you see where I’m going here? If you’re a male lawyer with the potential

to make partner, you go for it, because you have a wife and kids to support.

If you’re a female lawyer with the potential to make partner, the chances are

that your husband is earning enough to support both you and the children. Which

gives you the opportunity to seek out more rewarding work and more time with

your children.

I can absolutely see why in such a situation there would be a shortage of female

law-firm partners. And in the real world, among my lawyer friends, something

very similar is happening. None of them, having spent time at a big

law firm, actually wants to make partner. Most want a less stressful life, often

as corporate counsel somewhere. The ones who stay at the law firms are the ones

with a family to support.

At the moment, it is very rare for a female lawyer to be the main breadwinner

in a family with children. Only when that becomes more common, is my guess,

will the number of female law-firm partners start to rise.

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3 Responses to Female partners at law firms

  1. Lily says:

    Are you really asserting that there are no single mothers in the legal profession? Your logic is just astonishingly sloppy here. There’s no point in arguing with such glib bombast, but it’s safe to say you’ve lost a reader.

  2. Gari N. Corp says:

    Can’t say I agree with you here. There are many single mothers at the big firms, and even quite a few of them with husbands earning significantly less than they do. They still like the work at the Wall Street firms, which can be much more rewarding than what’s on offer in-house. The fact is that the firms have been doing an absolutely appalling job of making female staff feel valued (social events have still not progressed much beyond the occasional bout of drinking), or of accomodating their schedules. To get an answer I’m not sure you need to go much beyond assumption 1.

  3. Felix says:

    I don’t disagree with either of you. Of course I never said that there weren’t any single mothers at big law firms, let alone that there were no single mothers in the legal profession more generally. I was merely comparing the situation that a male married-with-kids lawyer finds himself in to the situation that a female married-with-kids finds herself in. The single lawyers, with or without kids, I didn’t address at all.

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