How Women in Law Have Progressed and the Importance of Pushing Forward

Women In Law Edition 21'



Anna Grozdanov

Taking a quick look at the history of women in law is a great way to gauge just how much women have progressed in law over the last one hundred years. The American Bar Association did not start admitting women until 1918. However, even after it became permissible to admit women into the association, many women were still not getting admitted. It was not until World War II, that there was a spike of women being accepted into law school and being hired by law firms, and this was mainly due to the shortage of male lawyers. However, this increase of women in law in the 1940’s was short-lived as once the war ended, the male veterans took back their positions, and women either left their jobs or remained as associates but were given no opportunities for promotion and were paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

By the 1950’s, women were only making up about three percent of the legal profession. To go into even more detail, in 1950, there were only five women on tenure tracks at approved law schools. To say women received a slow start in the world of law is an understatement. During these times, it was very difficult for women to find jobs after graduating from law school, regardless of how well they did in school. Most women were forced to find jobs as legal assistants or librarians because law firms would not hire them as “real lawyers”. If women were able to find employment as lawyers, it was typically only in certain types of legal fields, such as trust and estate law, tax law, or family law, which were all considered domestic areas of law and were seen as appropriate areas for women to practice in. Women were not allowed to go to court and they were to have no contact with the clients.

Things slowly began changing in the 1970’s due to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which barred sex discrimination in schools that recieved federal funding. Additionally, women started coming together and filing complaints against law firms who were discriminating against them. The impact of this litigation lead to an increase in women lawyers. For example, the number of women lawyers jumped from 13,000 (4%) in 1970 to 62,000 (12.4%) in 1980. Additionally, the percentage of women in large law firms increased from 14.4% in 1975 to 40.3% by 2002.

The most recent statistical study done in 2019 showed that women now make up thirty eight percent of lawyers. Interestingly enough, women also make up about half of all law school graduates. This means that about twelve percent of the women who graduate law school decide not to pursue a career in law. Additionally, studies show that by the age fifty, women only account for twenty-seven percent of the profession, meaning that the amount of women in senior roles is quite lower than that of men. This could be due to many different factors. One of these factors could be the difference in compensation. According to the American Bar Association’s 2019 statistics, male partners are being paid about 21% more than their female counterparts. Another study has shown that women are leaving the practice of law due to the levels of stress they experience at work, the number of hours they have to work, the lack of opportunities for advancement and the lack of recognition they receive for their work. So what does all of this mean?

There is no question that women lawyers have made strides towards gender equality in the last one hundred years. They have changed the law by reforming sex discrimination statutes and bringing national attention to the issue of gender bias in the legal field. However, it is now more important than ever to continue women’s full integration into the legal profession and to fight for total gender equality. One way this is being done is by highlighting accomplished women lawyers who have stayed in the profession and and using them as role models for younger women lawyers to encourage them to continue on with their careers. Law f