MUCH DEBATE ABOUT THE LEGAL "GENDER GAP" . . . This week, the Coast to Coast podcast is taking on the "gender gap in the legal profession." The show follows last week's New York Times article, "Why do so few women reach the top of big law firms?" According to the article, just 17% of partners at large law firms are women.
The Times article generated a lot of blog-talk last week, but the most interesting response was from Carolyn Elefant of My Shingle. She notes a problem with the entire genre of gender-gap-in-large-law-firm articles:
[T]hey make it seem as if biglaw is the "be all and end all" of a legal career. In truth, only a small percentage of lawyers practice at large firms and real law is made day by day by solo and small firm practitioners and the clients we serve. But for some reason, when a woman heads her own firm, it's still regarded as an inferior position to serving as one of dozens of partners at a large firm. In fact, these articles almost never make mention of the hundreds of women making it on their own as heads or partners of solo and small law firms.
Elefant's right, isn't she? The notion that big-firm partners are the most successful lawyers--and, by extension, the rest of the bunch didn't quite make the cut--is a flawed way of thinking about the legal profession. On the other hand, it's not surprising to see it repeated in the newspapers, since it's the way most people think about the legal profession, including some lawyers and almost all law students.
If it means some lawyers aren't getting the respect they deserve--well, I don't feel too bad about that. But the myth that the world's best lawyers are all large-firm partners has other, more serious ramifications. It leads some people to choose the wrong lawyer for the wrong reason. It leads some lawyers to make bad career choices. It leads some lawyers to think they're failures when they're not.
Why not stomp out the large-firm-partnership myth? It's a good idea, but I don't think it's going to happen. Too many people have a vested interest in keeping it alive. Can you name them?