Sexism. Unequal pay. Harassment. Lack of respect. Imbalance.
Do a casual Google search on “females in the legal profession” and these issues are ubiquitous in the results. With such discouraging reviews, statistics, and stereotypes (if we assume that the stereotypes tell the whole story, that is) it is hard to imagine why a woman would want to join the legal profession.
However, luckily for us ladies, the pendulum is swinging toward change. We see this change in universal pay scales; we see it in the option for some to work remotely; but most of all, we see it in the choices many law firms make available to all of their professionals—the choice to push oneself and dominate as a big-billing rainmaker, and to pump the brakes at times, making “non-traditional” roles more traditional, all while still being perceived as adding value.
Although our profession still has much room to improve, and likely will continue to need to do so as times and values change, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the top five reasons we love being female lawyers. We have come a long way, and law is a great place to be today.
1. The work is great.
One of the best aspects of being a female attorney is the satisfaction and reward that comes from the substantive work itself. Across disciplines and industries, the practice of law is substantive and challenging. Lawyers are an essential component of the most significant matters in everything from business to government to the nonprofit sector. The process of analysis involved in examining a legal issue and evaluating a constantly changing framework of laws and regulations is mentally stimulating and personally gratifying.
The impact of our work also is incredibly significant. Keeping our clients secure through the advice and analysis we provide, guiding them through litigation, whether big or small, structuring deals and all manner of business transactions, securing justice for those who require a voice—for many of our clients, our services are vital to the most significant events in their businesses and lives.
As lawyers, we fill an essential function in society, facilitating order, business, fairness and progress. We bring our education, training, experience and wits to advocate for our clients, and guide them through substantial and critical decisions. Underneath it all, the practice is extraordinarily gratifying.
2. The profession continues to grow in support of women.
The growing support for women in the legal profession is an increasingly beneficial aspect of a career in the law. With a mounting awareness of the benefits of diversity in the practice, many firms, as well as local and state bar associations, have diversity initiatives in place aimed not only at hiring, but also toward support for professional development, and for workplaces that allow for differing career goals and family structures.
Law firms are more conscious of the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Uniformity in a group may lead to staleness in analysis and results, while building a diverse workplace (in whatever categories that entails), with exposure to people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, can result in change and progress. This might very well be the new competitive edge in the practice of law. This means that in addition to greater opportunities for women in the legal profession, we have also seen a reduction in pressures to work or behave in the same ways as our male counterparts (or conversely, in “traditionally-female” ways).
From another positive perspective, many of these initiatives are being advanced not just by female lawyers, but by our male colleagues, who have backed women entering and rising within the profession. This critical support from these high-ranking champions has bolstered the efforts and successes of the determined and dedicated female attorneys who have worked for years for an equal voice in the board room and the court room.
3. The community is a real thing.
In addition to the general increase in support for women in the profession, it is also important to spotlight the friendship and camaraderie among female attorneys. Where we might expect to see advice directed and offered to female attorneys within a given firm, the mentorship and relationships from female partners to newer female attorneys at other firms is truly wonderful. Even within a litigation practice, which by its nature is adversarial, we find female attorneys who may be adverse to our client on a given case will still offer career advice or friendly encouragement about a presentation or initiative we have undertaken, over lunch or coffee. .
Local and state bar associations also offer organizations targeted toward women. Women lawyer organizations in our area offer everything from career advice to tips on salary negotiation. They conduct annual confidential surveys on job satisfaction among female attorneys to provide data to local firms about what they can and should be doing for their workforce, provide workshops on business development and rainmaking, and even offer non-work-related information that is useful to any professional, male or female – like referrals for nannies, contractors and the like.
Prior generations of women in our profession paved the way and helped break down barriers for new female attorneys, and now, from the very established to the newly minted, we find female attorneys lending advice and support to their comrades across firm lines and industry practices.
4. A flexible work schedule is more than just corporate-speak.
Candidly, a professional degree provides us with choices in when and how we work. This truth is especially evident in law, where we spend much of our time meeting clients at off-site locations, answering emails, and drafting documents. While some aspects of litigation still take place in an office or the courtroom, the vast majority of what we do can be done anywhere. This sometimes means answering emails from bed at 11 P.M., but it also means the freedom to structure work around the other things that make up our lives.
We know many men and women in the legal profession who adjust their days to coach their children’s soccer games or train for a marathon, and this flexibility seems to truly be the rule and not the exception. Lawyers pay for this flexibility by fitting in those “lost” hours in other places, but the fact that this flexibility exists is one of the truly great perks of the law.
5. And then there is the pay.
Talking about pay may not be the most polite way to start small talk at a cocktail party, but the inescapable truth is that we all work for the money.
Working as a lawyer has essentially endless income potential. While associates typically make good salaries, for those driven to work hard and bring in business, there are no upper limits on income potential. This is not something that can be said about a typical corporate job with a lock-step pay structure. The fact that a law degree has good earning power can also benefit those of us who might elect to take a less-intense career path, because lawyers can earn more for the hours they do work than many other professionals. This means that a lawyer working at a 75% level can earn far more than someone working at the same level in another profession.
Everyone has days when getting into work seems like a battle, or when a particularly demanding client seems to need everything yesterday. Yet, even in those moments, we should remember that we are lucky. We do challenging and interesting work in a field in which support only continues to grow; we have a community; we have flexibility; and we make a good living doing fascinating work in a well-respected profession. Ultimately, being a female lawyer is an unbeatable mix that can allow for a balanced, accommodating lifestyle.
About the Authors
Shayda Zaerpoor Le (503.276.2193 or firstname.lastname@example.org) is an employment law attorney and Iris K. Tilley (503.276.2155 or email@example.com) is an employee benefits partner with Barran Liebman LLP in Portland, OR.
(Feature Image Credit: ShutterStock)