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Gender Bias in the Field of Law: Background information when reading Her Kind of Case

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Her Kind of Case

A Lee Isaacs, Esq. Novel

by Jeanne Winer

Her Kind of Case by Jeanne Winer X
Her Kind of Case by Jeanne Winer
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    Aug 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Gender Bias in the Field of Law

This article relates to Her Kind of Case

Print Review

The protagonist of Jeanne Winer's Her Kind of Case is a criminal defense attorney who has been in the legal profession for over 30 years.

While female lawyers aren't rare, law is still an area where women are underrepresented (as are minorities of both genders). According to a 2016 New York Bar Association report, women make up just 25% of attorneys in lead counsel roles across every level of court throughout the state, in spite of the fact that they comprise about half of law school graduates (and have since the early 1990s). The Washington Post reports that women and men are equally represented at the associate level, but that women are twice as likely to leave the profession early, citing work-life balance concerns. The same article states that only 4% of the top 200 US law firms have female managing partners.

Some other disturbing findings from a survey conducted by the American Bar Association include the following:

  • 57% of female lawyers of color and 50% of white female lawyers report having been mistaken for custodial staff, administrative staff or other court personnel, while only 7% of white male lawyers reported the same. One female lawyer stated, "I have frequently been assumed to be a court reporter. In my own firm, I've been asked if I am a legal administrative assistant on multiple occasions, even after making partner."
  • Female lawyers are often stuck with "office housework" – scheduling meetings, planning parties and cleaning up after events. The article states that women are expected to be more helpful, and organizations assign them these tasks because they're less likely to object.
  • While the legal profession demands a certain level of assertiveness and self-promotion, women lawyers feel like they must walk a tightrope. If they're perceived as too assertive, they're penalized, if not assertive enough they're seen as lacking the confidence to succeed. This carries over into juror perception as well.
  • Female lawyers are more likely to be interrupted than their male counterparts. This occurs even at the Supreme Court level, where 65.9% of all interruptions are directed at the three female justices.
  • Studies have shown a pay disparity exists. An interviewee stated: "One man was recently given a promotion because HR discovered he was being paid a lot more than me, with the same job title. So instead of increasing my pay, they promoted him to a higher title!" Male partners make 44% more than female partners, according to a national survey.
  • Female lawyers are penalized for opting to become mothers. Studies have repeatedly shown that after a woman gives birth, they are taken less seriously in the field, and they are not as readily promoted as their male counterparts.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but some courts are making an attempt to level the playing field. In New York, for example, Judge Jack B. Weinstein revised his courtroom rule sheet to encourage the participation of young women and minorities. It now says that "junior members of legal teams" are "invited to argue motions they have helped prepare and to question witnesses with whom they have worked." It also notes that the decision was made after the release of "studies of underrepresentation of female attorneys and minorities," and adds that Judge Weinstein is "amenable to permitting a number of lawyers to argue for one party if this creates an opportunity for a junior lawyer to participate." Hopefully more judges will see the necessity for policies like this and respond accordingly.

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article relates to Her Kind of Case. It first ran in the May 29, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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