November 18, 2022

Wage Gaps and Cutthroat Culture Highlight Gender Disparity, ABA Report Finds


A woman is being interviewed by two other women across a table.


In a new report undertaken by the American Bar Association, several key aspects of the legal profession are causing women attorneys to consider leaving the field, notes Law360. Among the most significant factors are the persistent pay gap based on gender and the hyper-individualistic, competitive nature of the industry, which often pits lawyers against one another, degrading any sense of community workplace culture. Such cutthroat culture leads to attorneys feeling isolated.

The study, written by Joyce Sterling and Linda Chanow, utilized focus groups and interviews with 100 lawyers. The researchers focused on factors that influence lawyers to remain in the profession, switch jobs, or leave the industry entirely. Forty percent of lawyers who left the profession in 2019 were women, yet they constitute only 37% of all lawyers and only 25% of partners.

Among respondents, the researchers noted that women of color were even more likely to experience these factors, which is confirmed by their attrition rates, higher than any other group in the profession. 

The ABA report also gibed with other long-term studies that note many women in the legal profession exit the field at the zenith of their careers, which has a knock-on effect because these professionals have accrued significant power and influence within the profession and yet, for the reasons noted by the ABA researchers, they choose to leave, which affects not only their individual careers but lessens the power they have to improve conditions for early-career lawyers.

According to Sterling and Chanow, unless the profession undertakes major overhauls, these disparities will continue, and likely worsen. They call for more focus on “longevity” and retention as well as an increased focus on providing resources for women who, as we’ve noted before, have significantly more social reproduction responsibilities.

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