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July 10, 2015

First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table

By Stephanie A. Scharf and Roberta D. Liebenberg

The American Bar Foundation and the Commission on Women in the Profession recently published the groundbreaking report First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table. Written by Stephanie A. Scharf and Roberta D. Liebenberg, this study is the first of its kind to provide an empirical snapshot of the participation of women and men as lead counsel and trial lawyers in civil and criminal litigation. The research used a random sample of all cases filed in 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

As revealed in this study, women are consistently underrepresented in lead counsel positions and in the role of trial lawyer for all but a few types of cases. For instance, in civil cases, men are three times more likely than women to appear as lead counsel and to appear as trial lawyers.

First Chairs at Trial also identifies characteristics of cases, law firms, and clients that impact the extent to which men and women serve in lead counsel roles. The report concludes with recommendations for closing the gender gap and setting forth best practices and strategies that can be implemented by law schools, law firms, courts, clients, and women lawyers themselves to increase the ranks of women lead counsel.

Download First Chairs at Trial from the Commission’s website at