The legal career divide between men and women is looking even broader after a report that women argue a measly 15 percent of the cases that go before the Supreme Court. Lisa Blatt has argued before the Court 30 times and suggests that “[w]omen seem less inclined to enjoy the verbal jousting.” Patricia Millett, who has argued before the Court 28 times, offers an alternative explanation: women “self-select” out of the opportunities that help build such a career, and family may be the reason why.
Unfortunately, these numbers are nothing new in the world of female legal employment. As Catalyst’s research Women in the Law in the U.S. illustrates, while women constitute just under half of law-school students, they only comprise about one-third of all attorneys. The salary disparity between male and female lawyers is striking, and the number of male partners at law firms and male general counsels at Fortune 500 companies continues to dominate that of women in those high-powered ranks.
While this story and these statistics are disconcerting, I see a positive takeaway. The only way to drive more female attorneys toward high-level positions is for other women to pave the way. Through their own careers, Ms. Blatt and Ms. Millett are showing women attorneys and law students their career possibilities. And while it’s a great responsibility, they now have the chance to provide critical mentoring to female attorneys. Having success stories to aspire to and examples of women who have thrived in the legal industry (including those with families) may help women believe they can do it too.
No, 15 percent isn’t ideal. But it’s something. And we can build on something.
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