A recent American Bar Foundation report based on interviews and focus groups with female lawyers revealed that the most cited reasons for female lawyers leaving law firms was unfair or biased compensation systems. The report was based on 12 focus groups located in six cities as well as 12 individual interviews.
According to the study, female lawyers reported that they originated more work than some of their male counterparts and still received lower pay. The study and report was done in collaboration with the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Women in the Legal Profession as part of the ABA’s initiative on long-term careers for female attorneys.
According to the ABA’s May 3, 2021 press release, among the combination of factors that affected women’s decisions on whether to remain at their law firms, leave the profession, or move to a different legal job after being in the legal profession for more than 15 years was unfair compensation. A large number of the women in the study were their family’s breadwinners with spouses who were either low-paid or unpaid. The women reported that the pay disparities affected their ability to support their families as well as engage in leadership opportunities at their firms.
Multiple female lawyers reported that their firms told them they were making less than their male counterparts because the men had to support a wife and children. Many respondents also noted an inequitable distribution of origination credit for cases.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
In addition to inequitable compensation, additional factors that influenced the women’s decisions to leave the profession included:
- Poor collegiality due to a bullying atmosphere and a hyper-competitive culture;
- Driven isolation from colleagues due, in part, by ever-increasing demands for billable hours and lack of women in leadership;
- Behavior that was sexist and racist;
- The want for more fulfilling, interesting, or challenging work that would remain with senior partners;
- Being looked over for promotions, particularly to equity partner, especially for women who worked fewer hours; and
- Unpredictable schedules and long hours, making it difficult to manage personal and professional schedules.
There were, however, positive aspects of the profession that respondents identified even if the final decision was to leave the law. This included:
- Intellectual stimulation in the law;
- Relationships with colleagues at the firm;
- The ability to help clients solve legal issues;
- Autonomy in their work;
- The social impact of the work;
- Monetary compensation compared to other professions.
More information on this topic can be found here.
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