Have we been complacent about the supply line of women in the legal profession? Didn't we all assume that women make up around 50 percent of the students in the nation's law schools--particularly in the top schools?
That's just not true. According to statistics compiled by Poets & Qants, a terrific site devoted to MBAs, female enrollment at the top law schools lags behind men (hat tip: ABA Blog). Among the top ten law schools, the one with the lowest female enrollment is NYU (42.6 percent), while the highest is UC-Berkeley (52.9 percent), the only school to break the 50 percent mark. Here's the list:
1) Yale, 49.3 percent
2) Harvard, 48 percent
3) Stanford, 45 percent
4) Columbia, 48.5 percent
5) University of Chicago, 44.3 percent
6) New York University, 42.6 percent
7) University of Michigan, 44.6 percent
7) University of Pennsylvania, 47.6 percent
9) University of California at Berkeley, 52.9 percent
9) University of Virginia, 44.8 percent
Granted, the fact that women represent 40-plus percent of students at these schools isn't horrendous--certainly when you compare it to the dismal enrollment of women at business schools, where hitting the one-third mark seems like a big achievement.
But what's surprising is that women's enrollment at law schools overall has been on a steady decline since 2002, when women constituted about 49.05 percent of law students. The ABA's newest statistics show that women made up about 47 percent of all first-year law students for 2009 to 2010, and 45.9 percent of all law school graduates. The all-time high was in 1993, when women's enrollment bumped just above 50 percent. (Click here for Catalyst chart.)
So why are fewer women flocking to law, just when females are in the majority in graduate school? One reason for the decline, says Dorian Denburg, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, is the steady stream of bad news about the difficulties facing women in law: "Twenty years ago, when you had a lot of women coming out of law school, the ceiling was not as apparent as it is now. You didn't have as many statistics or information," she says.
Jessie Kornberg, executive director of Ms. J.D., agrees that there's a "perception problem." She says it doesn't help that there's been been "no discernible progress for women in the legal profession in roughly a decade." She adds, "The number of women in visible leadership positions in law firms and legal departments remains essentially unchanged." Moreover, she says, "lawyers in general appear to be an increasingly miserable bunch."
Brande Stellings, a vice president at Catalyst, warns law firms not to count women out: "Women are still close to a majority of law school students--so it’s still critical for law firms to see that women are here to stay in meaningful numbers--as associates, partners, judges, and clients."
No one is predicting that the supply of women pursuing J.D.s will dwindle to that of women in MBA programs. Denburg says much of the negative press is skewed toward big firms. "The bad news about Big Law has dominated the conversation," she says. Young women, she adds, should keep in mind that "Big Law is just a small part of the profession. . . . There are lawyers who work for Legal Aid, corporations, the government."
Readers, why do you think fewer women are pursuing law? Is this just a blip, or a trend that's here to stay?
Related post: Don't Let Your Wall Street Sisters Quit.
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