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March 29, 2006

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Comments

Joel S.

As somebody who gave up big firm life for my own practice, I can see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, there's a lot about biglaw that I don't like in terms of values, lifestyle, etc. (and I still feel like I'm a part of it in a small way, since my wife is of counsel at a big firm). On the other hand, I worked with and encountered a lot of great lawyers when I was a part of "biglaw," and have come across a lot of crappy solo and small-firm practitioners since I've been out on my own. I don't think you can have it both ways -- you can't criticize the large firm culture of working 24/7 and being ambitious while also claiming that solos and small firm practitioners are just as good. In my experience, they aren't (at least not generally). Now, if we're talking specific attorneys, then that's a different story (or, at least, I hope it is -- I get most of my business via referrals from friends at big firms, and market my practice as offering big firm experience and service with solo pricing).

The Law Fairy

A big part of it is also how you determine "quality" or "success." Solo practitioners don't make near the salaries of biglaw partners. If the biglaw gender gap is a result of lots of women going solo, this is still a problem because it contributes to the gender pay gap. It also detracts, on any level, from the attractiveness to women of staying in the law, since it gives us the impression (sadly, the correct one, I'd venture) that it's harder to do well in the law as a woman, not because we're less talented, but because we're *women.* The competing cultures of biglaw and society put women in a uniquely challenging position. I know plenty of fantastic female lawyers who are early in their careers, who are already finding that the male associates get the plum assignments and the barely perceptible but no less real favor from partners. Why? Because, statistically, women don't do as well in big firms. If an employee is statistically less likely to stay with the firm long-term, why invest in her just as much as the eager young associate who's far more likely to stick with it for the long haul?

So is this a problem? I say a resounding "oh HELL yes it is."

Julie

Saint Louis University law school professor Nichole Porter weighs in on this in the next issue of Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy. I think the article's called "Redefining superwoman: An essay on overcoming the maternal wall in the legal workplace". She attributes it to the "maternal wall" or the fact that law firms rarely make adequate accomodations for women with children.

As another sidenote, gender politics scholars are increasingly interested in the number of women moving up the law firm food chain, because they are one of the few eligibility pools of people with political ambition. Many scholars have argued that when the legal profession gains more parity in terms of women in partnership roles, that it will increase the eligibility pool of women seeking high elective office.

Matt

As the husband of a former big law lawyer, I would have to disagree that it is the law firm that is not making the accomodations, at least in our experience. The law firm was fine with working with my wife, but the clients expect the 24/7 availability that big firm associates, and typically partners as well, must have.

Unless a woman in big law has a husband who is willing to reduce his work schedule, or is comfortable with day care 40 hours a week, the lifestyle of big law and the required level of service to its clients is simply not compatible with having children.

U.A.

It's like Matt says: a woman is not compatible with big law lifestyle, and must find a partner who is "willing to reduce his work schedule, or is comfortable with day care 40 hours a week," with the unspoken assumption that men don't need to worry about that particular barrier. Because if men want to have children, they'll just find a woman who is willing to stay home, or at least work a lot less. That's a societal problem.

Biglaw firms tend to make MORE concessions to help women succeed, in my experience. Bigger firms offer part-time, longer partnership tracks; in bigger cities in-house daycare is an option, as is telecommuting. All of those are things that help women manage their work and families. I, however, work at a smaller to medium-sized firm where no woman lawyer in the history of the firm has had a baby and returned to work.

I was also told (by a partner in a relatively big firm) at a depo yesterday (without any hint of irony) that women aren't welcome to have children at his firm. When people can say that out loud and in public and not expect censure, there's obviously still a big problem.

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