Concerns for 2Ls About BigLaw Careers

 

By going to a firm, I feel that I'm giving in not just as a person interested in social justice, but also as a woman. In a study of race and gender inequality at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Lani Guinier et. al. note that among the law school class they surveyed, between 25 and 33% of the women entered law school expressing a commitment to public interest, compared to only 7% of the men.[1] By the third year of law school, only 8 to 10% of women planned to practice some form of public interest, whereas the figure for men decreased to 5%.[2] Guinier et. al. interpret this change in women's commitment to public interest as evidence that in law school, "women become significantly less like their first-year 'selves' and more like their male classmates.[3]

The thought that I am becoming another one of the public interest defectors that Guinier et. al. describe is horrifying. Granted, I haven't experienced the kind of overt sexism and male chauvinism that the women in her Penn Law School study suffered. Guinier et. al. posit, however, that law schools are institutions that prize traditionally "masculine" ideals and behavior, and that women must adopt those ideals and behaviors in order to be successful.[4] Is choosing to pursue a job in Big Law a paradigm of the masculine ideals that law school encourages? By valuing a law firm job over the public interest leaning that brought me to law school in the first place, am I unwittingly falling into the same pattern as Gunier et. al.'s research subjects? Does my 1L "self" want to work in Big Law?

As if my own doubts about choosing a large firm over public interest weren't enough, I've also become increasingly worried that Big Law doesn't really want me. Although women have accounted for much of the growth in the legal profession over the past several decades[5], only 16% of women lawyers are partners in law firms, and of those women only make up 10% of revered "rainmakers at large law firms. Further, even those women who have risen to the ranks of equity partnership earn only 85% of what their male counterparts earn.[6] The situation is even worse for women of color, who earn 47 cents for every dollar paid to their white, male counterparts.[7] As dismal as these numbers are, it's difficult to imagine that as a woman entering a large law firm, my prospects of success and advancement will be much better. Given these concerns, I'm terrified that my Big Law career will be a short one.



 

[1] Lani Guinier et. al., Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change 45 (1997).

[2] Lani Guinier et. al., Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change 45-46 (1997).

[3] Lani Guinier et. al., Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change 46 (1997).

[4] "A disproportionate number of the women...entered law school with a commitment to public interest law, ready to fight for social justice. But their third-year female counterparts leave law school with corporate ambitions... For these women, learning to think like a lawyer means learning to act like a man." Lani Guinier et. al., Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change 28-29 (1997).

[5] John Hagan and Fiona Kay, Gender in Practice: a Study of Lawyers' Lives 10-11 (1995).

[6] Patricia K. Gillette, Not So Sweet 16 1 ¶ 2, Employment Law 360 (2011), http://www.law360.com/articles/228042/not-so-sweet-16.

[7] Ellen Ostrow, Cracking the Compensation Conundrum, New York Law Journal (2010), http://www.law.com/jsp/nylj/PubArticleNY.jsp?id=1202474429107.

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.