The Progress of Women in the Legal Profession
25 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2009
Date Written: September 21, 2009
The number of female and male law school graduates has been almost equal for nearly a decade, yet the number of women remaining and advancing in the field does not reflect gender equality within the profession. According to a 2008 study by the American Bar Association, less than 32% of United States lawyers are women. As of March 2007, in the 200 largest American law firms, only 16% of equity partners were women. With respect to law school administration, women fare somewhat better but continue to be disproportionately represented. Consider, for instance, that just 20% of law school deans are women. The salary of American female lawyers also lags substantially behind that of male lawyers. This demonstrated lack of advancement for women in the profession is not unique to the United States. As an example, women constitute only 23% percent of law partners in the United Kingdom and slightly more than 14% of law partners in New Zealand. Given that women have been practicing law for over one hundred years, statistics like these necessarily beg the question: what has kept women from making more progress within the legal profession?
Two recent books from Canadian scholars attempt to answer this question by addressing the progress (or lack thereof) made by women in the legal profession. One book is a history of the first women lawyers from countries around the world, The First Women Lawyers: A Comparative Study of Gender, Law and the Legal Professions by Mary Jane Mossman. The second book, Bar Codes: Women in the Legal Profession by Jean McKenzie Leiper, is a contemporary assessment of modern women lawyers based upon a study conducted in Ontario, Canada. In comparing the books, it is striking to note that certain elements of the struggles faced by the first women lawyers continue in various forms today. This review evaluates how these books contribute to the growing body of scholarship on women in the legal profession. Each book fills a particular gap in the interdisciplinary scholarship on women lawyers. Read together, these books provide an essential background for understanding the progress achieved toward gender equality in the legal profession and identifying the work that remains.
Keywords: legal profession, women lawyers, professionalism, history, book review
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