March 07, 2011 Practice Points

New York Judges Ask Where the Women Litigators Are

By Patricia O'Prey

At a New York City Bar Association event on Tuesday, March 1, 2011, a panel made up of two New York state judges, two corporate counsel, and a law firm partner debated some of the reasons for the lack of women in commercial cases pending in New York state and federal courts. Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, appellate division, is quoted as saying "Believe me, we notice it," referring to the lack of women at counsel's table. In addition, Justice Rosalyn H. Richter is quoted as having said that while judges typically see a diverse group of attorneys appearing for family law, criminal law, and personal injury cases, the room tends to clear out of women when it comes time to hearing commercial cases.

Justice Richter's chambers compiled information from the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division that backed up the Judges' perceptions. Between September and January, female attorneys led or argued 19.23 percent of the 802 published civil cases in the division and only 13.35 percent of the commercial cases. Overall, 207 attorneys appeared in the 98 published commercial cases, and only 14, or 7.3 percent, were women, according to the data. This figure pales in comparison to the national figures, which indicate that in 2009, 31 percent of attorneys were women. The in-house counsel participating in the panel, including Michele Coleman Mayes, general counsel of Allstate Insurance Co., and Sandra Leung, general counsel at Bristol Meyers Squibb Co., emphasized that outside counsel must understand that staffing matters appropriately means using minority and women attorneys, even if they are on reduced hours.

Patricia O'Prey works at Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP in New York, New York.

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