Although women are entering the legal profession in ever greater numbers, representing nearly 40% of all lawyers today, they continue to face more challenges than their male peers, both in terms of earning potential and quality of life. In her 2019 book 50 Lessons for Women Lawyers—From Women Lawyers, author and attorney Nora Riva Bergman features advice and insights from experienced women lawyers and emphasizes the importance of mentorship in overcoming barriers to success. —
According to 2016 Census Bureau data, women are earning less than their male colleagues on average, and the difference between men's and women's salaries grows with age. In fact, at the peak of their earnings, the top 10% of women attorneys only make two-thirds of the average salary of the top 10% of male lawyers. In addition, women are more likely to be employed by the government or by small, lower-paying firms than men, and they are less likely to get the highest-paying cases.
Unequal earning power is not the only hurdle that women lawyers face. Women also struggle with discrimination from employers, colleagues, and clients. For example, female lawyers are more likely to be criticized for their dress or appearance than men. In addition, many of the traits that are prized in successful male lawyers, such as aggression and dominance, are seen as unattractive in women. Research has shown that female attorneys are significantly more likely to be interrupted than males, and they are also more frequently criticized for using an aggressive or angry tone.
Other issues addressed in Bergman's book include the struggle to maintain work-life balance, the importance of putting one's own needs first, and the need for self-care, to name a few. In particular, contributors discuss how the challenge of balancing the roles of parent and spouse with work responsibilities have an impact on female lawyers, both in terms of career advancement and personal well-being.
According to survey data, women attorneys who become pregnant often lose a chance for promotion due to the assumption that they will not devote enough time to work after the baby is born. In reality, women lawyers with children devote long hours to work while still holding primary responsibility for housework and childcare. The stress of these demands can lead to a host of mental and physical health problems, including depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.
A common thread running through Bergman's book is the value of mentorship. The contributors to the book express the goal of lifting up other women by sharing their insights and offering tips for success based. Many of them share their own experiences of giving and receiving mentorship and forming helpful collegial relationships with other women in their profession.
For example, Lesson 42 is titled "Women and Mentoring: Why Professional Relationships Matter." Its author, Michelle Suskauer, describes her own positive experience of being mentored as a criminal defense attorney early in her career. She shares lessons she learned in childhood about the importance of giving back to one's community, and encourages women to seek out professional and personal relationships with other women lawyers. These positive connections, she says, not only benefit women's careers but advance the legal profession.
Despite the challenges women lawyers continue to face, there is cause for optimism. With growing numbers of women in the profession and the growth strong professional networks, the influence of women on the profession is likely to increase considerably.
Release ID: 88918828