On Balance: Leading by Leaving

16 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2016 Last revised: 25 Mar 2016

See all articles by Paula Schaefer

Paula Schaefer

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: March 11, 2016

Abstract

Even though women make up half of law school classes in the U.S., hold half of elite judicial clerkships, and accept almost half of the jobs in large U.S. law firms, only a small number of women make partner or serve in leadership roles in those firms. Much has been written about the things that stand in the way of gender equality in elite law firms. Yet misconceptions persist about why the time demands of “big law” have a disproportionate impact on women.

This Article points to evidence that is contrary to those misconceptions and argues that the women – and men – who leave large law firms in search of balance are exhibiting leadership. Contrary to Sheryl Sandberg’s advice that they should “lean in” if they hope to lead, these former big law attorneys are leading by leaving.

Following an Introduction, Part II looks at the numbers of women in the pipeline from law school to elite law firms, and how the numbers drop off precipitously before women achieve partnership and take on leadership positions. Next, Part III considers and refutes two common misconceptions about why women have not succeeded in big law: that women lack ambition and that women cannot shoulder the dual demands of practicing law and being a primary caregiver. The reality is that these women are ambitious and that both women and men leave elite firms for similar reasons. They are often seeking better balance in their professional and personal lives. The topic of balance is the focus of Part IV, which makes the argument that lawyers who are leaving large law firms in search of work-life balance are exhibiting leadership. Turning to the topic of this symposium, Part V concludes with some suggestions about how law school leadership education could address issues of work-life balance and gender disparities in the profession. Rather than framing these as women’s issues, this Part suggests the benefits of presenting these as issues that men and women should consider as they make a plan for their professional and personal lives.

Keywords: gender equality, large law firms, work-life balance, leadership

Suggested Citation

Schaefer, Paula, On Balance: Leading by Leaving (March 11, 2016). Tennessee Law Review, Forthcoming; University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 290. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2746689

Paula Schaefer (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States
865-974-6793 (Phone)

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