Women have made great strides in the legal field, but still fall short when it comes to being heard. A recent study reports that female law students are less likely than male law students to participate in classroom discussions or seek advice from professors. They're also more likely to be motivated by fear.
This phenomenon is not just limited to law schools, but instead plagues the legal profession as a whole. Women are less likely to take leading roles in law firms, and, as recently discussed, only argue 15% of cases that are heard by the Supreme Court.
So, why are woman lawyers and law students remaining silent?
Though the report doesn't explain why this is the case, some believe that the phenomenon stems from cultural norms. Women are taught to be quiet and soft spoken from a young age, which is often difficult to change, posits Nicole Black, author of a woman lawyers blog. This may be true in some cases, but it seems a little questionable when you consider the newest generation of lawyers and law students--they're the children of baby boomers.
Others think that assertiveness is seen as bitchy and unattractive, causing women to be written off. On the flip side, women are simply not heard when speaking in softer tones, Jessie Kornberg tells The Lawyerist. Not being heard regardless of what tone they take, women choose to "opt-out."
My belief? Cultural norms and male perceptions may influence the decision to remain silent, but women also need to stop making it worse. Take, for example, Lisa Blatt, who holds the female record for cases argued in front of the Supreme Court. When asked why so few cases are argued by women, she asserts that most women don't like "verbal jousting" and are "horrified."
Most women reading this are probably shocked by that statement. But how many of us have silenced the meek or attacked the outspoken? Whether a woman speaks softly or carries a big stick, it is important for other woman lawyers and law students to support them, not shame them into silence. Because if we don't, no one will be listening.
- Law Students, Particularly Women, Have Limited Contact With Faculty, Survey Finds (Chronicle of Higher Education)
- Female Law Students More Likely than Males to Cite Fear Factor as Motivator (ABA Journal)
- Are Women More Difficult Bosses for Female Attorneys? (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Women Lawyers' Pay, Rank Lag Behind Men at Law Firms (FindLaw's Strategist)