March 02, 2017 Practice Points

In the Legal Profession, Are Women the Superior Gender?

By Margaret Bryant

In the quest for equal treatment and opportunities, we may sometimes forget that characteristics generally associated with women, like superior communication skills, can make us more effective lawyers than our male colleagues.

A recent study, albeit in the medical profession, highlights this point. Specifically, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that female internists achieve measurably better results than male internists (subscription required). The JAMA Study concluded that female internists had lower 30-day mortality and readmission rates. This difference existed across a variety of medical conditions and regardless of the severity of the patients’ illnesses. The authors of the JAMA Study assert that their findings are consistent with other studies which indicate that differences in how women generally work may result in better outcomes, including studies in other industries that suggest men may be less deliberate in solving complex problems.

One of the JAMA Study’s authors, Dr. Ashish Jha, explained in his blog that he and his colleague, Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, were intrigued by studies showing that women practice medicine differently from men. They refer in the JAMA Study to findings that female physicians are more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, provide preventive medicine more often, and engage in more patient-centered communication. Such studies, according to Dr. Jha, led him and his colleagues to undertake the JAMA Study to determine if female physicians achieve different results than male physicians. The authors of the JAMA Study felt such an analysis was warranted because despite the evidence suggesting that female physicians provide better care, female physicians still face criticism “that career interruptions for childbearing, higher rates of part-time employment, and greater tradeoffs between home and work responsibilities may compromise the quality of care provided by female physicians and justify the higher salaries among male physicians.”

Although female lawyers face similar criticism, there is no comparable study for us to cite—yet. There are, however, several interesting articles that extrapolate from gender studies. One such article, by Sarah Rathke, identifies factors that may result in female lawyers having an advantage over male lawyers. Sarah K. Rathke, Unique Skills: The Rise of Women Trial Lawyers, 56 No. 4 DRI For Def. 10. (available through Westlaw) Ms. Rathke cites to studies that indicate that women are generally perceived as more honest and interested in justice. Such biases give female lawyers an advantage in distancing themselves from some of the negative stereotypes of lawyers. This is particularly helpful in situations where lawyers are advocating before juries or negotiating deals with business people. Ms. Rathke also cites to studies that show not only are women often better communicators, but also people generally prefer communicating with women. Regardless of the practice area, communication skills are a key component of effective lawyering. For example, transactional lawyers must be able to ascertain their clients’ often nuanced and sometimes evolving objectives. For trial lawyers, communication skills are critical to all aspects of litigation, including effective witness preparation during which the lawyer must work with their witnesses to communicate effectively their story.

Although there is no similar study to the JAMA Study involving the legal profession that female attorneys can cite to rebut biases and gender-based criticism, there is a growing body of evidence that suggest how women tend to work often results in better outcomes. We should remind ourselves (and others) of observations and experiences in our own professional lives that strongly indicate there are clear advantages to being a female attorney.

Margaret Bryant is an associate at Ware Jackson Lee O’Neill Smith Barrow in Houston, Texas.

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