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Mar 19 2006

Oh, Puh-LEEZ

Dig this actual headline: Why do so few women reach the top of big law firms?

I have sent them a link to this blog.

44 comments

  1. Mandos

    I kinda wonder what this blog would be in the negaverse. Well, I guess it depends on how nega the negaverse is. I’m imagining a real person—a man—named Straighto Slower who has a blog named I Affirm the Patriarchy with an Affirm button at the bottom. That’s assuming that only this blog is nega. However, thinking bigger, I could also imagine a woman writing an “I Affirm the Matriarchy” blog. Negation is really complicated. Hmm…

  2. B. Dagger Lee

    Mandos, Mandos, Mandos: My evil twin, who communicates with me from the parallel negaverse via tin cans and string, suggests you dub the evil twin Twisty (fraternal) as STRAIGHTSO Slower. It’s an evil twin poet syllable/ sound thing, adding resonance & fun. Also, in prior discussion, suggest: BLOGVIATE as term of art, if no one else has yet.

    I remain, your B.Dagger Lee

  3. Cass

    At least they made that blindfolded person holding the scales a woman. They didn’t have to do that.

  4. Luckynkl

    At least they made that blindfolded person holding the scales a woman. They didn’t have to do that.

    Sure they did. They just forgot to add the gag and the nylon rope. But no worries, they don’t forget to add it in the courtroom.

  5. Hattie

    The lawyers I know are cuttroat sharks. Women aren’t supposed to be that way.

  6. the15th

    I kinda wonder what this blog would be in the negaverse.

    I Blame the Matriarchy.

  7. Cass

    While we’re (kind of) on the subject of female lawyers, all of our Austin sisters in blaming should rejoice at the recent victory of Ms. Sarah Eckhardt in the Democratic primary for County Commissioner. During my service as a legal advocate a few years ago, I derived no small amount of joy watching her nail wife-beaters to the wall as a County Attorney in protective order court. Those are the kind of sharks we can always use more of…

  8. Pinko Punko

    No no no, the negaverse would be affirming patriarchy. Or that could essentially just be the rest of the media in this one.

  9. Hattie

    Cass: that is really good to hear. We have a few good women in law here, too.

  10. Nia

    I have a question that’s driving me crazy. This is the way I see things: One reason why women aren’t normally given top positions in many jobs, even in systems in which getting a top position seems to be just a matter of seniority, is that those positions requiere a dedication in hours that women cannot/will not give because they want to/ have to spend time with their families. Now, what do you think is the solution to this?

    Not having children? / Not marrying?

    Making husbands a lot more involved with childcare and housekeeping would be fair, but, would it be enough?

    Can we design a corporate world that didn’t require people to work 15 hours a day to be taken seriously?

  11. Luckynkl

    Well that’s the myth, Nia. But according to Time Magazine, 70% of women are saying no to marriage and babies. Which is probably why the boys are in testerics and frantically trying to ban birth control and abortion.

    Then we have the fact that many men make the work environment as hostile as possible to women. Women are sexually harrassed and humiliated when they’re not being totally ignored, often take the blame and the fall if anything goes wrong, and are often passed over for promotions and raises. When women get fed up and leave, men will then say, “See, she wanted to stay home and spend more time with her family.” Many women themselves will use that excuse just to save face and not let the boys know that they drove them out.

    Yes, there are token women, just like there are token people of color so the white boys can say, “See, we’re not being discriminatory.” But that would be a lie.

    So what do you think will be the patriarchy’s next excuse why women are so rarely found at the top? Other than the obvious one. Blatant sexism.

  12. R. Mildred

    Wouldn’t it be “straighter slower” to represent his/her ex-gay, abstinence-only, status?

  13. Hattie

    Well, gee, my daughter does not have career problems or child rearing problems, nor does her partner. They are both women. Could that be why?

  14. Pony

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060317.RNFLD17/TPStory/?query=woman oil newfoundland

    Find the pissed-off whackjob threatening the ambitious, smart, competent woman.

  15. kathy a

    i think there are a lot of factors that, one way or another, add up to few women in top jobs at big law firms. they are factors that play out in other kinds of organizations, too.

    the more obvious ones are discrimination, harassment, glass ceiling. the first two may be in play not only with the law firm, but also with courts, and with clients. the firm itself may have perfectly fine policies and practices, but if a big-buck client will not trust advice unless a man is giving it, that may pose certain problems; if a judge thinks women don’t belong in court [or simply listens less to a woman], merit might take one only so far.

    there are characteristics generally found in large law firms that also pose problems. first, the structure itself tends to be patriarchal, with orders from the top down and “that’s how we do it here” assumed to be adequate justification. competition is often valued above cooperation. flashy wins may be valued over best solutions.

    big law firms tend to value money-making above all else — thus, the emphasis on billable hours. many big firms do good pro bono work [free work for good causes], but the “real” work is usually about people getting or paying money. that may not be as satisfying as work that changes something [for example, nailing wife-beaters to the wall, or helping farmworkers get adequate housing, or working to get kids out of bad situations, or a hundred other things].

    personal and family priorities are also reasons that particular women [and guys] flee. part-time arrangements tend to not work well, where being on call 24/7 is the firm’s idea of “being a team player.” extra obligations like kids, elderly parents, needing to feed the dog every so often, health problems, wishing to retain sanity, etc. are in conflict with the “ideal,” and on top of the other stuff mentioned above, many rational people say to hell with it.

    just some thoughts and observations. i blame, of course.

  16. oudemia

    I had to come over and check on the digs here chez Twisty. Pandagon is down. Feministe is down. I was worried that some kind of patriarchal kristallnacht was going on. OK. 7 o’clock and all is well.

  17. marie

    Hee hee. I just read the times headline, and thought “duh, patriarchy” and then headed over here…

  18. Betsy

    Part of the reason is because lawyers are such ding-a-lings that they continue to work 60-hour weeks even after reaching the ability to make a perfectly good living working 20 hours a week (which a lot of wage slaves would give anything to be able to do).

    But a half-time lawyer is definitely seen as a not-serious lawyer. Oh, boy, did I find this out. It doesn’t matter if you graduated with honors and have a top-notch legal mind, you are like Krypton or something if you let it slip that you don’t want to be on the 7-year 60-hour/week partner track.

    Moreover, the whole profession is predicated on having not only a wife at home, but a driver, housekeeper, lawn maintenance crew, etc., etc. because when you work that much you really don’t have time for ANY home & family responsibilities.

    (The fact that any lawyer does manage to function without a full “household support staff” goes far to explain why the profession has some of the highest rates of suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, stress-related illness, and psychological dysfunction of any job group.)

    Then there are these types: my boss at my old firm (a female lawyer with small children) who actively disparaged and ridiculed another female lawyer with small children for going home at 3:00 on Friday afternoon. (I saw this happen a few months before I quit the business.)

    As Twisty dryly pointed out — oh really? women aren’t making it to the top of the big firms? I wonder why that could be? — too many explanations to count immediately jump to mind. I could go on and on about the Men’s Club atmosphere, the desire of a lot of Man attorneys for a Boy attorney sidekick, the inhuman work schedule, the hostility to any kind of life outside of the Billable Life, the prevalence of certain character traits and personality types that lawyers tend to have when compared to the general population (conservatism — not necessarily political but in the original sense, fear of novelty, fear of change, strong adherence to dominance/submission models of interaction, linear thinking, competitiveness, etc.)

    That’s just a start; there are more reasons than I could even begin to go into here. Anyway it’s no wonder that a lot of sane people avoid the profession including women who are under so many conflicting pressures to begin with and who are struggling to conform in many cases to lot of social models that don’t fit with the way the legal world behaves and views itself.

  19. mrs_enid

    Having had large (and small) law firm and law school faculty experience under my belt, as well, IMO there are a number of reasons why women drop out. Others here have already mentioned them but, from what I’ve seen, the inhumane schedule and the lack of respect that part-time lawyers get are the main things that drive women out. Though many firms talk the “family friendly” talk, they really don’t want people (male or female) switching to part-time or compromising 24/7 availability.

    Compound that with the fact that most women who attend law school are traditional. Most of them want the husband, the big house in the ‘burbs and the 2.5 kids. Once they have kids, it becomes very hard to be a devoted parent and bill the hours and put in the face time required for success at large firms. Sure, some of them manage to do it, but it’s not surprising many of them leave big firms or the practice of law all together. I really don’t foresee large law firms changing their business model any time soon. Consequently, I don’t see the attrition rate for female associates improving any time soon either.

  20. jaye

    The solution? Women headed firms. Women should start their own firms. Women hiring women. Gay male secretaries are good. Lesbians are even better. Why? Because they both know the score and know how to live large despite the patriarchy.

    It is an old boy’s network and they treat women like shit. I clerked at one of the world’s most successful plaintiff’s law firms and the men there were terrible. Ridiculously humiliating, childish, unresolved dry drunks and more denial than anyone can live in and not be batshit insane.

    The hours are so bad because they wait until the last minute to do anything and they whine about it and they expect everyone to cater to them. Women at the firm had a sort of back handed power as we rolled our eyes, laughed at how impossible it was to deal with the male divas.

    We got our work done and made them look like geniuses. They hardly noticed.

    They work as long as they do because they have no family life at home so they hide out at work in the comfort of all that maleness. Their children are future felons, their wives neglected and really don’t mind because they find their husbands insufferable. It is all that maleness and who can I fuck over next so I feel good about myself.

    Nothing is going to change until women step over the game and run their own companies. They excell in probate, family law, and as one federal judge told me, juries like women and women usually win those jury trials in federal court. They are more human, less ego driven, appear more compassionate, smarter, tougher, and honest.

    Women just have to hang out their own shingle and move around the bullshit. Much like how we live our lives anyway.

  21. Mandos

    Well that’s the myth, Nia. But according to Time Magazine, 70% of women are saying no to marriage and babies. Which is probably why the boys are in testerics and frantically trying to ban birth control and abortion.

    I remember you saying this from before but I wasn’t able to find a cite for this. I’m very interested to see where this statistic comes from. Would you perhaps have a cite?

  22. CafeSiren

    It’s not just lawyers, of course — it’s any professional field. Even when women make progress, we’re still expected to behave like ladies: nurturing, self-sacrificing, self effacing. I’m an academic historian, and while I’ve experienced very little professional discrimination in my short career, I have seen enough to be fully in accord with the Committee on Women Historians’ 2005 report on status of women within the historical profession:

    “Many point to the double-edged sword of women’s and gender history, noting that the opening up of the field has led to increased opportunities for hiring, and thus demand for their expertise, but also noting that too often they are expected, regardless of their area of specialization and preferred personal style, to teach women’s history to undergraduates, to offer the “women’s point of view” in meetings, and to constantly perform femininity to both students and colleagues—to be, as one put it, “endlessly available, nurturing, and accommodating.” The complaint of being “run ragged” by these expectations coursed through the responses. There is more than enough resignation, bitterness, disillusionment, and discouragement to warrant a more serious and extensive consideration of gender in the profession than we were able to carry out in this survey. […] The profession as a whole should be concerned that so many successful women feel they have suffered from gender discrimination. Female talent is being squandered in fights over large and small issues that could be ameliorated by the attentiveness of administrators, department chairs, and colleagues, and the establishment of more transparent institutional procedures.”

    (Full report at: http://www.historians.org/governance/cwh/2005Status/index.cfm)

  23. pslade

    Jaye….I agree with you. Women need to set up shops of their own.

    And I think we have seen this across the board with all Corporations. So many women have gone into consulting or started home businesses of some sort because Corporations treat women like shit.

    I blame corporations more than most.

  24. mythago

    “I have sent them a link to this blog.”

    bwahahahahaha! Ten bucks says it goes right over their heads, though.

    lawyers are such ding-a-lings that they continue to work 60-hour weeks

    At a big law firm, 60-hour weeks constitutes ‘coasting’. But the pyramid scheme is where it’s at; even at law firms run by smart people, who realize that holding back women doesn’t help the bottom line, your status depends on how much money you bring in. The more hours you bill, the more money you bring in. And there are never enough partnership slots for all the associates, so naturally people are going to drop out.

  25. Sophist

    “Firms want women to stay. Men at the firms want women to stay, and women want to stay. So why aren’t they?” asks Karen M. Lockwood, a partner at Howrey in Washington. “Law firms are way beyond discrimination – this is about advancement and retention. Problems with advancement and retention are grounded in biases, not discrimination.”

    Well gee, I’m glad we got that discrimination problem solved. Equality achieved. Nothing more to see here. Move along.

    Luckynkl: Which is probably why the boys are in testerics and frantically trying to ban birth control and abortion.

    Did you invent that word? Because it’s the best word ever.

    Pinko Punko: No no no, the negaverse would be affirming patriarchy.

    Well, that all depends on what type of negaverse it is. Are we talking inverse, converse, or contrapositive?

  26. CafeSiren

    Problems with advancement and retention are grounded in biases, not discrimination.

    This may be a valid distinction in legal terms, but as it applies to real-world problems, the distinction is too fine for my wee girlie brain to handle. Anyone care to parse this for me?

  27. Betsy

    “Though many firms talk the “family friendly” talk, they really don’t want people (male or female) switching to part-time or compromising 24/7 availability.”

    V true — part of what’s unique, or at least unusual, about law is being always a lawyer and to some extent “on call” due to one’s ethical/professional obligations to clients. And it goes beyond the ethical on-call obligation (which probably doesn’t come up with much frequency for a lot of sub-areas of the law) and becomes more of a marketing thing for the firm and the individual lawyer: clients like to know that their lawyer is “always on duty” … especially as the hourly rate goes up … and firms encourage their lawyers to project an image of constant availability. At my old firm we weren’t supposed to tell clients we would be on vacation during a certain week; we were supposed to say we were “unavailable,” presumably to be in court or on a business trip or something.

    “Compound that with the fact that most women who attend law school are traditional”
    Also very true; law skools attract conventional people with conventional mindsets. There are certainly exceptions, blah blah blah, but still this is the rule.”

    “The solution? Women headed firms. Women should start their own firms.” Ah yes, so nice to have your affirmation. Now I do specialty law on my own terms consulting in another field. A tough living but my worst day has not been as bad as my best day in the law firm!!

    “The hours are so bad because they wait until the last minute to do anything and they whine about it and they expect everyone to cater to them. …. We got our work done and made them look like geniuses. They hardly noticed” Oh sister, that, and everything else you said, sounds so familiar. Goshalmighty.

    And the personalities. What you said. The partners at my firm said I needed to cultivate relationships with the attorneys more … it was fine that I got along so well with the support staff, but I needed to be friendlier with the lawyers. I came home and told my roommate, “Yeah right I get along with the paralegals and receptionists — they’re the only decent human beings in the firm!”

    “At a big law firm, 60-hour weeks constitutes ‘coasting’.” Oh yeah, and my firm that was causing me to thirst for strong drink for the first time in my life, abandon all pretense of a private life, and have quiet wishes that I might die in my sleep? It was considered a “lifestyle” firm, i.e. I was there only 50 hours a week or so.

    “But the pyramid scheme is where it’s at”
    Funny how more smart people can’t see this. I realized it in my 3L year: X number of firm lawyers, divided by Y number of partners, means Z lawyers don’t make partner and what happens to them? (Of course, law students are generally afraid of math, so that could explain why more of them don’t figure it out earlier.) The mommy track is how some of those superfluous non-partner-track people are “off-gassed” to make the system sustainable. It’s kind of like the logical obverse of how school teachers are drawn from the dependent-female class so that teachers’ salaries can stay satisfactorily low and an important job can continue to be so colonized, marginalized, and generally de-professionalized.

    “Your status depends on how much money you bring in. The more hours you bill, the more money you bring in.” At my law firm, I made reasonable efforts to be a decent person, treat people civilly, get along with co-workers, treat support staff with respect. I was told that all that was not important. I was told “Billable hours cover a multitude of sins” (it was made clear this even extended to personality conflicts with upper-level lawyers, if need be) Translation: We’d prefer you be an asshole, so long as you’re making more money for us.

    That’s when I got out. My analysis was, Providence gave me the good fortune to be in a position to choose; not everyone can; the measure of your humanity is what you choose to do, not what you do because you have to.

    Ultimately, the saddest thing is that LAWYERS CHOOSE to continue like this. LAWYERS: those at the top of the income & social heap, those with the most power to change the system, those with the most choice of all, and yet they choose badly, not just for others but for themselves.

  28. Ms Kate

    I once shared an office with a data base adminstrator whose husband attended Harvard Law. After 2 years in a cutthroat law firm in Boston, they pulled up stakes and went back to Utah, where they could both have a life.

    Yes, they were observant Mormons and yes, being close to family was important to them. But what was more important (and this may surprise some here) was that they felt that his ridiculous job was eating too much of her time to have a life too – specifically, as long as he was slaving away long hours for “prestige”, she could not be seriously employed.

    The shit he took for this … giving up what he never wanted … was astounding. The self inflated self-importance of an east coast law firm means things get incredibly ridiculous and insane insofar as what is required to get along and get ahead. Purely stupid and wasteful.

    I can only begin to think that this has much to do with why the east-focussed Democrats don’t get shit in the real world and can’t win. It also has a lot to do with women not wanting to play that game – most see the bullshit for what it is, and if they want a balanced life they opt out. Some men do, too, although many just have either equally ambitious childfree partners OR they simply have the little wifey at home.

  29. Mandos

    “testerics”

    This would be good except that “hysterics” comes from the Greek and “testis” is a Latin world. For the sake of symmetry it should be “orchiotics” or “coluthrotics”. But it wouldn’t be as funny-sounding except to us pedants.

  30. mythago

    Also very true; law skools attract conventional people with conventional mindsets.

    They also attract a lot of liberal-arts majors who don’t want to do graduate school. I’m sure every law school’s different, but as I recall, there were two very large groups of 1Ls: the business/econ majors who wanted to make buckets of money, and the liberal-arts students who wanted to work for the ACLU or Greenpeace. I needn’t tell you how many actually wanted to work for the ACLU or Greenpeace by the time they graduated.

    and yet they choose badly

    Five- and six-digit student loan debt tends to skew your priorities.

  31. antelope

    The lawyers I know work for non-profits in order to defer those huge students loans – but then you’re in a different kind of trip, working equally long hours for much lower pay, with more valid arguments for why you’re not “truly dedicated” being thrown at you (i.e. truly dedicated to helping the poor defend themselves against wicked landlords, helping to figure out whether kids are best off w/ their parents or elsewhere, etc.), and for less than half the money your classmates are getting – but if you ever give up on the cause, aside from feeling guilty that the unwinnableness of it all got you down, there’s the loans again.

    For some reason, though, it seems to be mostly women who choose that particular bargain.

  32. Twisty

    “testerics”

    “This would be good except that “hysterics” comes from the Greek and “testis” is a Latin world. For the sake of symmetry it should be “orchiotics” or “coluthrotics”. But it wouldn’t be as funny-sounding except to us pedants.”

    Way to suck the fun out of a joke, Mandos. Pedants! Not even the OED could laugh at that.

  33. teffie-phd

    Why would they want to?

    You know, the master’s tools and all that.

    Really, if the lawyer game is the patriarchy (and from the other comments, it is), is this what patriarchy blamers should strive for?

    It sure the hell isn’t what I want.

  34. Cass

    “Testerics” is a nice coinage; but personally, I like the irony of using the more traditional word.

  35. Ron Sullivan

    This would be good except that “hysterics” comes from the Greek and “testis” is a Latin world.

    What Twisty said about fun-sucking. But then my name is Veronica; what the hell do I know?

    (Pedants: Spot it.)

  36. Erin

    Oh, oh, oh!

    “True image”, in reference to the image of Christ that appeared on the veil that Veronica used to wipe the sweat from his brow. Vera from Latin, and icon from Greek. The lives of the saints bequeathed to me by my grandmother pays off!

    I should play the lottery today, or something.

  37. Erin

    Lisa Simpson is one of the darker angels of my nature.

  38. Chris Clarke

    Mandos is picking at nits and should relax. I suggest watching a little longinquivision, or a nice long drive in an autokinetikon.

  39. Mandos

    I can’t help it if Greek-Latin hybrids give me the fingernails-across-the-chalkboard feeling!

  40. Betsy

    Yeah, but there’s always “hybrid vigor,” as my Irish-Italian friends like to say.

  41. Ron Sullivan

    Ooooooh! Does this mean I can chase Mandos around and yell “Boogaboogabooga!”? I need some exercise and it’s raining out here. Maaannnnnndos, oh MaaAANNNnnndossssss, heh heh heh.

    Erin got it, by the way. One thing a Catholic education is good for is reference material. (The other of course is politics.)

  42. Ms Kate

    Some kids my kids play with have lice … I’ll keep Mandos Hands of Nit Picking in mind should the probable occur.

  43. arse poetica

    Ha, Twisty! I sent them a link to this blog, too. =)

  44. mythago

    antelope, problem is you’re only deferring the loans, not paying them off. I have a dim recollection of loan-forgiveness programs for lawyers who go work for the public interest, but I imagine they’re all gone now.

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