PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES
ASK A LAWYER
excerpted from material by Institute for Continuing Legal Education
A. NATURE OF GENDER BIAS IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION:
1. Recent studies tend to indicate there is an undercurrent of gender
bias in the legal profession. This text will examine areas of gender
bias in the profession, with the goal of alerting practicing attorneys
to both identification and elimination of gender bias in the profession.
2. As an approach to identification and elimination of gender bias, we
will focus on recent studies and articles concerning this area.
B. SURVEY/STUDY RESULTS:
1. Findings of the survey conducted by The Women in Law Committee of the
State Bar of California in cooperation with The Employment Law Center,
Legal Aid Society of San Francisco produced interesting results
concerning gender bias. Summary of the findings:
a. Gender Bias: 85% of the women lawyers surveyed perceive a subtle
but pervasive gender bias within the legal profession. Almost 2/3 agree
that women lawyers are not accepted as equals by their male peers.
b. The greater the number of women lawyers in a particular workplace,
the greater the perception of gender fairness by women attorneys in that
c. Some surveyed attributed gender bias to unconscious behavior of male
lawyers or to female lawyers not being part of the "old boys" network;
however lack of awareness is not the only cause of gender bias. One
respondent commented that young male associates trying to prove their
points produced physically threatening behavior when no one else was
d. "Double bias": Women minority lawyers view themselves as being
subject to both ethnic bias and gender bias, and a number of respondents
suggested the rules of professional conduct be amended to prohibit both
gender and/or racially biased conduct by lawyers.
e. Satisfaction in the practice of law: While 76% of the respondents
expressed the would still chose to become lawyers, it is significant
that 24% would choose another profession. Over half (55%) have some
preference for working with other women lawyers, while 62%
believe that they do not have as much opportunity for advancement as
f. Negative bias: 76% reported feelings of negative bias from opposing
counsel, 64% from clients; 48% from superiors, and 43% from peers.
It is interesting to note that most feelings of negative bias were
from opposing counsel, and the least was from peers.
While 65% did not make any career changes due to these perceptions of
negative bias, it is statistically significant that 35% did, and that
37% made no career changes because they believed it would not be any
g. A majority of those surveyed (62%) felt they are not accepted as
lawyers by males in the legal profession, and eighty-eight percent felt
there is a subtle but pervasive gender bias in the legal profession,
while 38% felt they would never achieve equal status with male lawyers.
h. As to general levels of satisfaction with legal employment, 79% were
satisfied with their present jobs, citing enjoyment from the challenges
of legal work, the opportunity to meet interesting people and the
opportunity to work in an enjoyable setting.
Negative feelings were expressed concerning working too many hours,
having too little time for family, and the difficulty of balancing
professional and personal lives.
i. 66% of the women lawyers responding felt that they had fewer
opportunities for professional advancement than men, and many expressed
frustration about the "glass ceiling" that keeps them from advancing
into particular areas.
With respect to advancement, 53% of the respondents felt that all or
more than half of all eligible women received promotions or partnerships
compared to 64% reporting the same of eligible male lawyers in the same
j. Sexual Harassment:Nearly half of the respondents reported
experiencing sexual harassment at their present or previous job, or in
the legal profession generally. Only 13% reported significant decreases
in sexual harassment over the preceding 5 years.
2. The 1990 Report of the Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Gender
Bias in the Courts identified problems including:
a. Words and acts focusing on the sexual attributes or personal
appearances of women participating in courtroom proceedings;
b. The use and manipulation of gender issues as a trial tactic;
c. Expressions that women should not be lawyers, or are inferior
d. Discrimination against women in bar activities, and
e. Conduct evidencing gender bias committed with either the
encouragement or participation of judicial officers.
3. The July 1992 Preliminary Report of the Ninth Circuit Gender Bias
Task Force concluded that gender remains a relevant issue in practicing
law in the Ninth Circuit, including in the
appointment process, in interpersonal conduct both in and out of court,
in an individuals work and in the federal adjudicatory process. They
also determined that men and women have
significantly differing views on both the definitions and prevalence of
a. Other findings:
1. 88% of Ninth Circuit judicial positions are held by men;
2. While 16% of Ninth Circuit practitioners are women, they make up about 40% of recent law school graduates.
3. Women identify their colleagues and opposing counsel as the source of much gender bias within the circuit.
4. 18% of women reporting observed or experienced sexual comments from male counsel; 40% reported comments about female counsel's sexual orientation, and 60% reported observing or experiencing sexual harassment by other attorneys, clients or judges.
C. ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS OTHER THAN THE ABOVE SURVEYS:
1. Laura Mansnerus, writing in "Working Woman", reported: "Something
terrible is happening in the practice of law...The profession itself is
a big disappointment...if you can judge by what these women have to say
about being a lawyer..."
2. The author of this article interviewed a number of women attorneys
concerning their opinions about practicing law, whose opinions included:
a. "It's combative, it's confrontational and it's not very
b. "...When I think of what I would have to do if I went back to
private practice, it turns my stomach."
c. "It's at best tedious, and at worst the tedium will kill you."
3. In her article, Mansnerus points to a survey by the American Bar
Association done in 1990, in which women indicate higher dissatisfaction
with the practice of law than men; 41% of the women in private practice
responding indicated they were dissatisfied with their jobs, and 30%
responded they were planning to change jobs within the next 2 years
(compared to male respondents, respectively at 28% and 15%).
4. The author cites a study by Caplow & Scheindlin of women law school
graduates and found that over a 20 year period, in 1967, 94% of women
would still choose law as a profession, while 20 years later, only 54%
would make that choice.
5. Mansnerus opines:
"...something more fundamental is making women walk away. In
interviews with practicing lawyers, no-longer-practicing lawyers and
career advisers to lawyers,
certain themes sing out: Women are more demanding of social purpose in
their work, more adept at revising their life plans, more critical of
silly professional rituals and-this is the politically difficult one-
less likely to take to a profession that is built on contention"
6. The author shares some personal feelings of interviewees:
a. Amelia Ribnick Kleiman, "Part of what put me over was the
behavior of other lawyers amongst themselves. I was seeing people
ripping other people apart and ripping businesses apart. I wanted to put
(Kleiman left the law and is now director of an endowment program in
b. Suzanne Veilleux, "There was no way I could say that what I did
had meaning in the long run." (Veilleux left a New York firm and the
practice of law)
c. Nancy Ashley, former law firm partner, "I don't want anybody to
write on my gravestone, 'She was a commercial lawyer'..."I make a lot
less money, but I am highly, highly satisfied with what I do" (Ashley
left the law and went into planning and analysis in a social services
d. Cheryl Clarke, "You get on this conveyor belt and never honestly
step back and examine what you are doing. I should have been tipped off
that it was less than personal when I was assigned attorney No. 210."
(Clarke left the law and became director of development for a dental
7. The author makes reference to certain aspects of gender bias
experienced or observed by the women lawyers interviewed:
a. The perception that women lawyers feel less commitment to the
profession because of family relations, i.e., "Women quit to stay home
with the kids."
b. Earnings disparity; women lawyers earn less than men for the same
c. The perception that women lawyers can't take it...that they're not
as tough as men.
d. That men do not believe sex discrimination is much of a problem in
the legal profession.
C. CALIFORNIA RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT PREVENT DISCRIMINATION:
1. California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 2-400
Rule 2-400. Prohibited Discriminatory Conduct in a Law Practice.
(A) For purposes of this rule:
(1) "law practice" includes sole practices, law partnerships, law
corporations, corporate and governmental legal departments, and other
entities which employ members to practice law;
(2) "knowingly permit" means a failure to advocate corrective action
where the member knows of a discriminatory policy or practice which
results in the unlawful discrimination
prohibited in paragraph (B); and
(3) "unlawfully" and "unlawful" shall be determined by reference to
applicable state or federal statutes or decisions making unlawful
discrimination in employment and in offering goods and services to the
(B) In the management or operation of a law practice, a member shall
not unlawfully discriminate or knowingly permit unlawful discrimination
on the basis of race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation,
religion, age or disability in:
(1) hiring, promoting, discharging, or otherwise determining the
conditions of employment of any person; or
(2) accepting or terminating representation of any client.
(C) No disciplinary investigation or proceeding may be initiated by the
State Bar against a member under this rule unless and until a tribunal
of competent jurisdiction, other than a disciplinary tribunal, shall
have first adjudicated a complaint of alleged discrimination and found
that unlawful conduct occurred. Upon such adjudication, the tribunal
finding or verdict shall then be admissible evidence of the occurrence
or non-occurrence of the alleged discrimination in any disciplinary
proceeding initiated under this rule. In order for discipline to be
imposed under this rule, however, the finding of unlawfulness must be
upheld and final after appeal, the time for filing an appeal must have
expired, or the appeal must have been dismissed
(added by order of the Supreme Court, effective 3-1-94)
Copyright 1995 by The Institute For Continuing Legal Education
P.O. Box 30 - L.V., NV 89125-0030
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