I wrote The Racial Paradox to compare minorities and whites, but one of the big surprises to me in writing the piece came from comparing white men and white women in big law firms. In reviewing data from the After the JD study (based on surveys from four thousand-odd new attorneys in 2002-03, including several hundred second- to fourth-year associates in big firms) I expected the "gender" gap in satisfaction and work experiences to be smaller than the "race" gap, but still noticeable. What I found were, more often than not, statistically identical patterns for the two sexes. 51% of white men were dissatisfied with their mentoring and 37% wanted more training, compared with 47% and 33% rates for white women. 47% of white men, and 47% of white women, were responsible for keeping the client updated on half or more of the matters they worked on. 25% of the white men, and 28% of the white women, supervised other attorneys or paralegals on half or more of their cases. Despite the many problems in big firms, here was evidence of something very positive.
To investigate further, I recently used the AJD to explore "dissimilarity indices" across gender lines. The dissimilarity index is a simple measure of how integrated or segregated two populations are from one another. If men and women are distributed across occupations in exactly the same way, the index is 0; if there is complete separation, the index is 1. In the American workforce generally, the level of gender occupational dissimilarity is in the neighborhood of .5 -- a number which has fallen some in the past generation, but remained stubbornly high despite the broad influx of women into the workforce.
Traditionally, men and women lawyers have been at least somewhat segregated in two ways: the type of employer they go to work for, and the area in which they specialize. Women have tended to be overrepresented in government and non-profits; men have concentrated in private firms, especially (compared to women) in smaller firms. Within firms, women were more likely to work in family law or probate; men dominated many of the commercial and "big business" fields.
That seems to be changing. In the AJD sample, the breakdown of men and women across sectors looks like this:
|Setting||% of AJD women in setting||% of AJD men in setting|
|Very small firms (<5 lawyers)||10.1%||12.9%|
|Small firms (6-20 lawyers)||13.5%||14.4%|
|Medium-sized firms (21-100)||10.5%||11.3%|
|Large firms (101-299)||8.2%||8.7%|
|Very large firms (300+)||19.5%||20.3%|
|Government / public interest||25.3%||16.7%|
The differences have not vanished, but they are generally quite small. Overall, the index of dissimilarity from this data is .09.
If we look at areas of legal specialization, the story is (to me) even more surprising. I analyzed the distribution of AJD men and women across 24 specialized areas, adding up the proportion of time each attorney said they spent in each area. The totals are remarkably similar for men and women; here's a partial summary for associates at very big (300+ attorney) firms:
|Area of practice||% of total time spent in area for:|
|Women at big firms||Men at big firms|
|Real estate commercial||4.0%||3.6%|
Overall, the male/female index of dissimilarity in practice areas for associates at these very large firms is .13. For all eight practice settings, the average index is .18.
To get some sense of how much has changed, I examined the Chicago Lawyers dataset, which is based on the extensive interviews by Heinz et al of some eight hundred Chicago attorneys in 1994-95. I created two comparison groups: lawyers who started their careers before 1982, and lawyers who started their careers between 1988 and 1993 (this second group would thus be similar, in terms of the stage of their careers at the time of data collection, to the AJD lawyers.) Here are the results:
|Lawyers compared||Index of dissimilarity across practice settings||Index of dissimilarity across 24 fields of law (average index across eight practice settings)|
|Chicago lawyers entering practice before 1982 (interviewed in 1994-95)||.37||.60|
|Chicago lawyers entering practice between 1988 and 1992 (interviewed in 1994-95)||.26||.35|
|AJD lawyers entering practice in 1999-2000 (surveyed/interviewed in 2002-03)||.09||.18|
Some of the Chicago field-indices are a bit skewed (biased upward) because there were relatively few women in some settings. And it may be a little misleading to compare Chicago data with national data. But the trend suggests that something remarkable has happened. Over the course of a generation, it seems, gender segregation in the law shifted from being very high to being relatively low. Young women lawyers, at least, seem to be converging with young men lawyers both in their choice of paths and their ability to "get on" those paths.
None of this is to deny that women of all races are securing big firm partnerships at low rates. The first wave of the AJD (looking at lawyers 2-4 years out of school) does not allow us to understand what happens at partnership time (the second wave, now underway, should), but the problems are foreshadowed in the AJD data. Women associates at big firms are more concerned about the long hours and the conflict between their job and their family life; their attrition rates are low during the early years with the firm, but a smaller proportion of women than men see a long-term future with the firm. Those are important issues, not addressed in this note. But they should not obscure the remarkable convergence of men and women lawyers in their early careers.