Recently I attended a lawyer’s event in Washington, DC where I met a female lawyer in private practice. In the course of our discussion, I learned she is the only female attorney out of over 35 lawyers in her department at a major law firm in Washington, DC. There are no women partners in her department. I was shocked to discover that in 2010, women are still not well represented at the law firm table.
Are women lawyers on the decline? More women are graduating from law schools than ever before. So why the disparity in the hiring practices of some law firms? There’s no shortage of intelligent and talented women lawyers in the nation’s capitol. Per capital, DC has more lawyers than most other cities with over 7 law schools in the immediate Washington, DC vicinity alone. Yes, some women choose government work and corporate work over law firms. But that still does not account for the disparity of hiring at some firms. Despite talk of diversity, diversity managers and workshops at law firms, women lawyers are still being overlooked in hiring practices.
I was recently asked during a radio talk show on Elena Kagan if diversity matters in terms of women. We’ve come a long way from the days of Charlotte E Ray. Charlotte Ray upon graduating in 1872 from Howard University Law School became the first black female attorney in the US and the first practicing female lawyer admitted to practice in Washington, DC. She was forced to close her practice due to racial and gender discrimination. While much progress has been made since the days of Charlotte E. Ray, we still have a long way to go. Gender bias still exists in hiring.
As long as we are still counting our numbers, diversity matters.