A more subtle question is raised by the comments to the PrawfsBlawg posts that I respond to below. The comments point out that many male law professors have wives that choose to stay at home. As I was thinking about whether that statement fit with my friends, I noticed that many (if not most) of my male law professor friends with non-working spouses have ex-lawyer spouses. From time to time I have wondered why more female lawyers than male lawyers become ex-lawyers.
In Houston, I was part of a book club comprising eight female lawyers of roughly the same law school graduation date (1993 or 1994) that all began their careers at the same large law firm. When I left Houston in 2003, of these eight friends, two were partners at large law firms, two stayed at home with children, two were part-time, one was an associate, and one was me. I believe by now one part-time lawyer and the one associate have also chosen to stay home with children. Of the two partners, one was unmarried and the other had children after she made partner. Can it be that only one in four female lawyers remain employed full-time in legal services after 12 years?
I have two hypotheses, one not very controversial and one possibly too controversial.
First, the market for high-achieving female lawyers seems to have some problems. In talking to my friends, I find that many ex-lawyers who stay at home would like to work more than they do and that most current mommy lawyers would like to work less than they do. Very few viable part-time legal jobs are available. In large law firms, my friends tell me that they take a pay cut to go "part-time" so that they can leave at 5:30 and not feel as guilty, even though they work at home. Faced with this binary choice, many women choose to stay at home. We have a friend who started his own law firm by calling our large-firm female friends on maternity leave and offering them a part-time package at his firm where they are guaranteed no more than 30 hours a week of non-travelling legal work at competitive hourly wages. He knows they will not get that deal at their law firm and that he can tap into this treasure of unused, valuable legal services capacity.
I discovered that for me in the practice of law, there were three considerations: hours worked; salary paid; and sophistication of work. No job gives you all three in optimal amounts: low hours, high salary, high sophistication of work. The best you can hope for is two out of three, and you choose which two. So, I have friends who are part-time at banks or insurance companies who will tell me that they have low hours and high salary, but fairly mechanical work. Obviously, my friends who are partners now have high salary and high sophistication of work. I have chosen to have flexible hours, medium salary, but high sophistication of work, and I think my option was unique. Few flexible hours jobs have high sophistication of work.
The second hypothesis is a little more controversial, but is not meant to be judgmental. These days, as in all other times, some women do not dream of having life-long careers. They dream of staying at home with their family. Just as a generation ago, women of middle-class or upper-middle-class backgrounds went to college even though they intended to marry and not have careers, I think some women go to law school never intending to practice law long-term. When I was growing up, this phenomenon was referred to as women getting an MRS degree in college. Perhaps as the age for starting families gets higher among educated women, the JD is the new MRS. (OK, I can see that being quoted out of context.) Intelligent women are going to law school not to prepare for a life-long vocation but to gain useful and interesting knowledge, practice a few years, and then turn their attentions elsewhere. However, part of telling human beings that they can be anything they want to be has to include respecting women's choices to be actualized in whatever sphere they choose.
However, if women are exiting the legal profession not out of design but out of a lack of options, then the legal profession should see that as an opportunity to capture that unused human capital.
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11. Posted by Christine on April 16, 2005 @ 16:13 | Permalink
Don't get me started about how law schools trot out the LRW profs and clinical profs to show how many women they have. I just got a glossy brochure from a rising law school that gloated that it had 30 "full-time female professors." Of those 30, only 17 were tenure-track or tenured. Law schools definitely make distinctions among classes when it suits them (salary, for instance), but seems to collapse all distinctions for gender diversity purposes. (I think Larry Solum's 39% is based solely on t-track hires, though).
As for the economics of exiting the workforce, I guess most of the ex-lawyers I know are married to other lawyers. If they have loans, they see these as sunk costs that have to paid regardless. You can also get some grace period on your student loans if you are unemployed with infants, but I may be making that up.
12. Posted by Ann Bartow on April 17, 2005 @ 8:58 | Permalink
I look at Larry's list and count only a third of the names listed as female - you can Google a lot of the candidates to confirm (or upend) assumptions you might have made based on their first names.
Marina Angel at Temple is working on a law review article that should have a lot of useful data, and Richard Neumann at Hofstra also is addressing hiring disparieties in a symposium article about to appear in the U.M.K.C. law review (http://www1.law.umkc.edu/Lawreview/upcoming.html)
When the AALS started allowing law schools to count nontenure track positions in a law school's student/faculty ratio, they derailed incentives to tenure LRW and clinic faculty. I wish they would rethink this! I also wish that USNews would reward schools that treated their LRW and clinicians well in its rankings, but realize I'm dreaming...
13. Posted by Brian Galle on April 20, 2005 @ 15:27 | Permalink
Christine wrote that "No job gives you all three in optimal amounts: low hours, high salary, high sophistication of work." That isn't quite true. The Justice Department gives you all three; next year, in my 5th year out of law school, I'll make just over $100,000. Not 5th-year associate salary at Wachtell, but pretty darned good. And I'm going home now. (5:30 EST.)
I'm not just selling us, either. The large number of successful women in our ranks (even here in the Tax Division, which for some reason seems to be a traditionally male-identified field) lends empirical support to Christine's hypothesis that, but for having to choose among the 3, women would stick around long enough to advance as far as men.
I also wonder to what extent our data suggests anything about whether divergent expectations of men's and women's performance hinders women's efforts to advance. Maybe government supervisors are more enlightened than in the private sector, but I doubt it.
14. Posted by Muhammad Riaz Uddin on November 2, 2005 @ 13:37 | Permalink
hi, i am a lawyer of Bangladesh. Now i want to job in middle east in legal field