The face of the law in America – if you’re only looking at law school enrollment – is female. In 2018, for the third year in a row, women outnumbered men in law school classrooms across the country according to a recent report.
It wasn’t long ago that women filled less than 10% of the seats in law school classrooms. But since 1972, the numbers have trended upwards, and in 2016, the number of female enrollees surpassed male enrollees for the first time (50.09% to 49.46%, with 0.45% identifying as “other”).
The percentage of women went up an additional 1.21% in 2017 and 1.09% in 2018.
The data, submitted to the American Bar Association (ABA) by accredited law schools, shows that women have begun to kick down the doors of the most highly-respected law schools as well.
Out of the top 20 law schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 11 increased the percentage of female attendees from 2017 (the percentage of women in three of the top 20 schools remained the same). This includes the top four law schools (Yale, Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Chicago), which all saw more women attend in 2018 than 2017.
What’s more, nine of the top 20 law schools now have more female attendees than male attendees.
But the increase in the number of women attending law schools doesn’t necessarily translate to women having more power in the legal field.
According to a 2018 report from the ABA, even though women comprise 45% of law firm associates, they account for only 18% of equity partners in private firms, and that number has barely increased over the past 10 years.
Moreover, the percentage of women serving as general counsel for Fortune 500 companies was only 26.4% in 2018. The numbers are similarly dismal for law school deans (32.4%) and federal and state level judges (27.1%).
The reason women are underrepresented in leadership roles shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following the news over the past year. Women in the legal field face sexism from judges, senior attorneys, juries, and even clients.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that many women are leaving the legal field at what should be the height of their careers. The trend has been so troubling that ABA President Hilarie Bass launched a special initiative in 2017 to determine why women are leaving the legal field and what can be done about it.
Thus far, the results have been disheartening – if not unsurprising. Despite a relatively equal level of satisfaction with the practice of law, women experience far more harassment and gender bias at work than men. They are perceived as less committed and disproportionately denied salary increases and bonuses.
The fact that so many women are attending law school is encouraging. But in order to prevent the numbers from sliding back down, the legal profession needs to make changes to ensure that once women graduate, the profession is ready to fully accept them.
About the Author
Lance Buchanan is Executive Editor of Enjuris.com, a platform dedicated to helping people who are dealing with life-altering accidents and injuries. Enjuris supports students, families, caregivers, and communities with resources, personal stories, and a national directory of injury lawyers.