Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2021

Publication Citation

46 The Journal of the Legal Profession 1 (2021)

Abstract

A lot has happened in the time since our last study. Women have continued to improve their position in legal education and the legal profession. In 2009, women were 47% of first-year law students in American law schools and 31% of practicing lawyers. Women's enrollment in American law schools has steadily increased so that in 2018 they were the majority of firstyear law students (53.1%), and in 2019, they were the majority of all law students (51.3%). Correspondingly, with women's advantage in numbers in education, women's participation in the legal profession has continued to increase so that in 2019 they now constitute 38% of all practicing lawyers. Some scholars estimate that women's representation among lawyers will reach 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. Also, since our last study, the economy suffered the Great Recession and the COVID-19 Pandemic Recession. It is commonly thought that the Great Recession accelerated structural changes in the legal profession, including changes that may have a disparate impact with respect to gender. For example, it is thought that the profession's movement towards improving work/family balance was side-tracked as firms increased work hours to maintain partner salaries in the wake of the Great Recession. With women undertaking childcare responsibilities in greater proportion than men, it might reasonably be feared that a profession-wide increase in work hours would have a greater negative impact on the careers of women. At the time of the writing of this article, it is not yet clear what the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic Recession will be on the US economy or the legal profession. The data in this analysis is from prior to the pandemic, so we will not shed light on that question.

In this study, we undertake an empirical analysis of the continuing progress of women in the legal profession and the differences that gender makes in the lives and careers of attorneys. As in our first study, we will examine the impact of gender at each step in the typical lawyer's career from choice of a job, to experiences in practice, to the decision to have kids and undertake the problem of balancing work and family, and finally, to promotion and partnership. In addition to examining the progress of people's legal careers, we undertake a detailed analysis of the differences in income and career satisfaction enjoyed by men and women during their careers. To track trends and recent changes in the examined questions, we analyze data from two recent time periods: survey years 2002-2006 and survey years 2014-2018. These distinct time periods, separated by 8 years, were selected to provide some separation in time in order to observe trends and changes, and because they conveniently separate the survey respondents who participate five years after graduation into pre- and post-Great Recession graduates (graduation years 1997-2001 and 2009-2013, respectively). Of course, in discussing observed trends we will also make frequent references back to the findings of our previous study which examined the data from survey years 1981-1991 and 1996-2000 (graduation years 1976-1986 and 1991-1995, respectively).

In this analysis, our primary data source is the University of Michigan Law School Alumni Data Set. With regular surveys conducted on Michigan alumni from 1967 until the present, the University of Michigan Law School Alumni Data Set provides a unique opportunity to examine the respondents' legal careers from the days when female attorneys were rare, to the present time when women represent a majority of the new attorneys entering the profession. Because the Michigan Data Set includes only University of Michigan alumni, a diverse but relatively elite swath of the legal profession, we will also report comparable results found in the existing empirical literature, in particular, the Chicago Lawyers survey and the American Bar Foundation's After the JD study.

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