March 02, 2012 Practice Points

The Advancement of Women in ABA Leadership

By Suzanne L. Jones

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession recently issued its annual Goal III Report on “Women’s Advancement into Leadership Positions in the American Bar Association.” The commission, established in 1987, assesses the status of women in the legal profession, identifies barriers to advancement, and recommends actions to address problems identified by the commission.

In 2008, the ABA implemented Goal III (formerly Goal IX), which seeks to promote full and equal participation in the ABA, the legal profession, and the justice system by all persons, and to eliminate bias. The annual Goal III Report is a snapshot report that analyzes women’s participation in the Association’s Board of Governors, House of Delegates, committees, sections and divisions, standing and special committees, and forum committees.

According to the report, in the past few years, women lawyers joined the ABA in numbers commensurate with or higher than the percentage of women in the profession. In 2011–2012, women comprise 31.7 percent of the lawyer members of the ABA and 31 percent of the profession. It is important to note, however, that women comprised 47.1 percent of the graduates of the nation’s law schools in 2010. Thus, the percentage of women law school graduates is considerably higher than the percentage of women in the profession.

Key highlights of the report include the following:

• Overall, women comprise 31.9 percent of the ABA’s House of Delegates.

• Women constitute 36.8 percent of the ABA’s Board of Governors.

• Women represent 38.1 percent of members of ABA sections and divisions.

• Women chair 8 of the 28 ABA sections and divisions (28.6 percent). This percentage is less than the percentages of women lawyers in the profession and women lawyers in the ABA.

• Women represent 33.2 percent of ABA section/division officers.

• Eight sections/divisions have women holding 50 percent or more of their offices.

• Eleven sections/divisions have a higher percentage of women officers than the percentage of their women membership.

• Overall, women comprise 39.5 percent of the membership of section/division councils.

• Women comprise 43.6 percent of section/division nominating committee membership.

• Women constitute 37.0 percent of section/division committee chairs and vice-chairs.

The commission also identified the following areas of concern:

• Currently, the following 14 jurisdictions have no women delegates: Alabama, American Samoa, Delaware, Guam, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

• Ten states––Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington––have at least two delegates elected by ABA entities (sections, for example), none of whom are women.

• The percentage of women section and division chairs is in a significant downward trend, from 32.1 percent in 2008–2010 and 39.3 percent in 2010–2011 to 28.6 percent in 2011–2012. Women chair 8 of the 28 sections and divisions, which is three fewer than in 2010-2011.

• The percentage of women chairs-elect for 2011–2012 is even lower, at 25.9 percent.

The annual report concluded that while the overall trend from 1991 to 2012 in the percentage of women holding ABA leadership positions is trending upward, the rate of increase has remained relatively static or slightly decreased in recent years. In addition, sections and divisions must make a concerted effort to help women achieve chair positions within their ABA entity.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, ABA, women, legal profession leadership

Suzanne L. Jones works at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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