Women in the Legal Profession, 1970-2010: A Study of the Global Supply of Lawyers
67 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2012 Last revised: 21 Nov 2013
Date Written: December 21, 2012
This article represents the first effort to measure the changing global supply and composition of lawyers over a period of several decades. In it I assemble data on lawyer populations and gender compositions from 86 countries and use them to calculate estimates for the rest of the world in order to paint a truly global picture of the changing supply of lawyers in general and of female lawyers in particular. Most of the data supporting my analyses come from a unique and hitherto untapped source: individual-level census data. Results show that, although its legal profession experienced significant feminization over the past few decades, the United States lags far behind many other countries. Indeed, owing to the enormous population of American lawyers, its relatively unfavorable gender composition has hindered the growth of the total global supply of female lawyers. Results also reveal a clear sequence in the global process of lawyer feminization. Bar expansion beyond a critical threshold almost always precedes — and is thus a general precondition of — the attainment of a critical threshold of lawyer feminization. More specifically, almost no country’s legal profession has attained a feminization level of at least 30% women before its lawyer density surpassed a level of 2,000 people per lawyer. According to estimates, although almost one-half of all the world’s countries (containing almost 30% of the world’s population) have crossed both thresholds, almost 30% of all countries (containing 55% of the world’s population) remain in contexts that have crossed neither. In global perspective, therefore, the process of lawyer feminization has hardly begun. I conclude this article by discussing an important implication of this pattern. In contrast to earlier scholarship which has focused attention on opportunity structures shaping the legal careers of women, I consider the issue of access to legal services among people with legal needs. The growing global supply of lawyers has enhanced access to legal services for both men and women. However, because the production of female lawyers has been faster than the production of male lawyers, and to the extent that female lawyers are more likely than their male counterparts to represent women clients, the growing supply of lawyers has probably improved women’s access to lawyers more than it has improved men’s access to lawyers. Global growth in the production of lawyers is likely a good thing from the standpoint of both women seeking legal careers and women seeking legal assistance.
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