July 30, 2015 Practice Points

Lady Lawyers Lacking at the Lectern

By Lauren Schoeberl

In her recent ABA Journal article, author Stephanie Francis illuminates the findings of the recent ABA study, “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table.” The study examined around 600 randomly-selected cases from 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to discern the relative participation of men and women in the role of lead counsel.

According to the study, in both the civil and criminal realm, men are far more likely than women to appear as lead counsel. The study also broke down women’s participation by case type; for example, women are more than twice as likely to appear as lead counsel in a property case than in a contract case.

Interestingly, Francis notes that women in government jobs are more likely to appear at the podium. In fact, 69 percent of the women appearing in criminal cases represented the government.

Why are female lawyers lacking at the lectern? Francis explains that a number of factors may be at play: family responsibilities might curb the opportunities available to women lawyers; the existence of gender dynamics in the courtroom; and senior partners, clients, and even court officials may operate with implicit biases about the effectiveness of women at trial. Francis indicates that these factors may militate even stronger against woman litigators of color.

To get more women into the role of lead counsel, the study suggests that law schools teach future female litigators how to tread around implicit biases, and to steer women toward government jobs. Women should also actively seek trial experience and should “own the courtroom.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, lead counsel, gender biases, female lawyers

Lauren Schoeberl works at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesotta

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