Women Lawyers and Litigators Are Disappearing in New York

Recently on Lawyerist, we discussed the growing silence of women lawyers in today’s classrooms and courtrooms. The article was met with a bit of backlash, especially from women litigators. These silent women, the critics claimed, must not be litigators. After all, women litigators are allegedly known to speak their minds at all costs.

Apparently, that is not the norm in New York, where the courts have recognized a dearth of female litigators in commercial and appellate litigation cases. The problem is so serious that the New York City Bar Association held a special program to address the issue and explore viable solutions. What say you now, women litigators?

Some Scary Statistics: Women Are Severely Underrepresented in Court

On March 1, 2011, approximately 200 lawyers attended the New York City Bar Association’s program entitled “Where are the Women in Commercial and Appellate Litigation?” The vast majority of the audience was comprised of women. There, the panel of speakers presented rather startling statistics about the role of women lawyers in these important civil cases:

98 commercial cases went before the court from September 2010 to January 2011, according to data collected from the New York state court’s appellate division, first department. On 86 of those cases, male attorneys took the lead role, leaving 12 cases in the hands of female attorneys. That means that 12 percent of the court’s total commercial docket had a woman at the helm. Yet nationally, 31 percent of all lawyers are women.

Do Women Need to Master the Art of Schmoozing?

While considering the possible explanations for the disproportionate representation of female lawyers in commercial and appellate cases, the panel questioned the ability of women litigators to generate business. According to panel members, men are far more likely to get business than women, simply due to the fact that men have mastered the art of networking and schmoozing. Panelist Michele Coleman Mayes, Allstate Insurance general counsel agreed, stating:

I have never seen a man be reticent to ask me for business. In fact, they will strangle you to make sure you sit long enough so they can tell you they want your business and why they’re so good.

Women will dance around it: ‘Well, I don’t want to abuse our relationship.’ And I say, ‘Men don’t care if they abuse it, neither should you.’

Networking and Schmoozing Tips for Women

How can female lawyers develop the networking tools necessary to generate business? Marny Lifshen, the co-author of Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women, presented a program last year entitled “The Top 10 Mistakes Women Make in Networking.” Some highlights from the program include:

  1. Failure to network “up”
  2. Avoiding professional risks
  3. Expecting hard work to be enough
  4. Overpromising and under-delivering
  5. Taking things too personally
  6. Creating and maintaining cliques
  7. Diminishing the power of personal branding
  8. Underestimating the importance of appearance
  9. Not finding or becoming a mentor
  10. Dropping networks after becoming a mother

For more information about networking skills, the Lawyerist staff have come up with some great tips and tricks of their own:

Women Lawyers Must Stand Up for Themselves

Women lawyers’ ability—or apparent lack thereof—to schmooze cannot really be the reason that women are not taking leadership roles in commercial and appellate cases in New York. There must be other factors involved. Have we so quickly forgotten that law firms are often lax in their cultivation of female talent that we are willing to blame this gender disparity on our networking capabilities?

Although the New York City Bar Association’s panel may have been off-base in assuming that men are better networkers than women, the panel did emphasize one important point. Female lawyers must stand up for themselves and serve as mentors for other women. There is strength in numbers, and in a profession that is still referred to as an “old boys club,” women lawyers can rise up together to meet with success.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunadirimmel/2388421014/)


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  • The work is increasingly stressful and less fulfilling and prestigious. The road to partnership is longer and less certain and plagued by non-equity limbo.

    Maybe women are just making a rational choice.

  • Interesting that this is happening in the country’s largest city. Based on my informal sampling, I deal with female lawyers more often than male lawyers. At worst, it is a 50-50 split.

  • If you told me that these statistics were from any city other than New York, or any practice area other than litigation, I’d say that perhaps sexism was at play. But here, I think it is just a matter of biology: women are generally the primary caretakers, and litigation at large NYC firms and part time parenthood really don’t mix. For many women, they feel they give up too much.
    Consider the experience of two female friends of mine, who both graduated from a top law school and were on journals. Friend #1 is a female litigation partner at an AmLaw 200 firm in NYC. She took 12 week maternity leaves when each of her kids were born and then worked 4 day weeks for about 5 years when her kids were very young. Yet even then, she went into the office or worked from home on her days off when it was required. My friend had a full time nanny and a husband who worked around the corner from their house. At least 3 nights a week, she didn’t even make it home before her kids went to bed. But that is what it takes.
    For Friend #2, Friend #1’s choices weren’t an option. When Friend #1 graduated, she was on the fast track at her firm, second chairing major trials, doing depos, etc…But after 8 years at the firm, she got pregnant and her husband worked at a high powered, 65-hour a week job, so Friend #2 left the firm, got an LLM and worked for a non-profit and then in academia. It’s not that she stopped working – she was in school full time, then worked full time, but she had 9-6 hours.
    That Randall’s experience is different does not surprise me. My guess is that Minneapolis hours are a lot more forgiving than NY, and even if law firm hours are tough, a woman would be more likely to have a spouse who could pick up the slack. In NYC, it seems that there is an extremely high proportion of married couples with high-powered, long-houred jobs and when they have kids, someone cuts back and for whatever reason, it’s usually the mom.

  • After re-reading this, I’ve noticed that the headline isn’t really supported by the article. So only 12% of commercial litigation appellate cases had a woman as lead counsel. What was the percentage a decade ago?

    Odds are the number is on the rise, not in decline.

  • I think the art of schmoozing is sorely lacking for lady litigators. Most of us don’t play golf. Where would we fit it in after taking care of everyone else…….including the men?