Women and the Law: Women in the Justice System

About a quarter of America's lawyers and 44% of law students are women.

Are women a significant part

of the legal profession?

Answer Women are now a permanent and integral part of the legal profession, comprising 24 percent of the nation's lawyers. The percentage of women lawyers has nearly doubled since 1985, when it was 13 percent, and is eight times the percentage of women who practiced law in 1971 (three percent).

Women's place in the profession continues to grow. Forty-four percent of all law students are women, and it is expected that women will make up 40 percent of the legal profession by 2010. At the same time, current projections suggest that the legal profession will never be 50 percent women, even though women are more than 50 percent of the population.

Sources: Curran, Barbara A., Women in the Law: A Look at the Numbers (American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, 1995); Curran, Barbara A. and Clara N. Carson, The Lawyer Statistical Report: The U.S. Legal Profession in the 1990s (American Bar Foundation, 1994)

Are women finding their place as leaders in the profession?

Answer Women are establishing themselves as leaders in the profession. As of 1997, women comprised 14 percent of law firm partners, 19 percent of full professors at law schools, 8 percent of law school deans, 19 percent of federal judges, 20 percent of state civil judges, 22 percent of American Bar Association House of Delegates members, and 32 percent of the members of the ABA Board of Governors.

Women lawyers' representation in leadership positions is outpacing their overall increasing numbers. Over the last 10 years, during which the percentage of women lawyers increased by about 77 percent (from 13 percent in 1985 to 23 percent in 1995), the percentage of women in leadership positions increased by 100 percent to almost 1000 percent.

For example, there is a 170 percent higher percentage of women federal judges today than in 1987 (19 percent v. 7 percent), 186 percent higher percentage of women judges in state courts of last resort (20 percent in 1997 v. 7 percent in 1986), 144 percent higher percentage of women in the ABA House of Delegates (22 percent in 1997-98, from 9 percent in 1987-88), and the percentage of women on the ABA Board of Governors went from 3 percent in 1987 to 32 percent in 1997-98. Growing at a slower rate, one closer to the overall rate of increase of women in the profession, is the 75 percent growth in the percentage of women partners at law firms (14 percent in 1997, up from eight percent in 1987), and the 46 percent growth in the percentage of women law professors (19 percent in 1997, up from 13 percent in 1990).

Sources: American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, Report to the ABA House of Delegates, on the Status of Women in the Legal Profession, August 10, 1988; American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, Women and the ABA: A History of Women's Involvement in the ABA, 1965-1989; American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, 1997 Goal IX Report Card; Federal Judicial Center; National Center for State Courts

How are women doing in law school?

Answer Since the early 1970s, the percentage of law students who are women has more than quadrupled, from 9.4 percent in 1972/73 to 44 percent in 1996/97.

Source: American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Approved Law Schools, 1998 Edition

Is there gender bias in law schools?

Answer In response to reports by women law students and faculty about gender discrimination in law schools, the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession conducted a series of hearings in 1994 and 1995 to explore the subject. The results were disquieting. Testimony showed that in a large Midwestern law school, a faculty member routinely referred to women students as "little girl" or "sweetie," and that students at another school called women faculty inadequate or bitchy, and tested them with frequent interruptions. In all, the Commission heard from deans, faculty and students from 58 law schools, whose testimony showed repetitive concerns about bias in the form of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, hostile and disrespectful behavior toward female students, a relative silence of women in the classroom, a lack of female role models and mentors, a low percentage of female tenured faculty, a disproportionately high number of women faculty in non-tenure track positions, and pay disparities between male and female professors with the same credentials.

Yet there were also signs of progress. Many students perceived law school as gender neutral. Witnesses reported that most professors treated women and minority students with respect, and many students acknowledged that some law school environments were changing for the better. Also, witnesses reported that women students who were reluctant to speak in the classroom were pleased with clinical programs that gave opportunities for learning and success, and students praised some schools for making concerted efforts to hire more women faculty and address gender-related issues in a proactive manner.

Source: American Bar Association, Commission on Women in the Profession, Elusive Equality: The Experiences of Women in Legal Education,1996
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