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Groundbreaking ABA study looks at gender disparities among lead trial lawyers


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Groundbreaking ABA study looks at gender disparities among lead trial lawyers

By Irma Romero

CHICAGO, July 14, 2015 – A study of the roles litigators play in federal trials shows that it depends on whether they are women or men. “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table,” is a report on this first-of-its-kind study that breaks down the roles of litigators along gender lines.

The study, sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession and the American Bar Foundation, examines cases filed in 2013 in the federal trial court in Chicago. It found that men made up 73 percent of the trial attorneys and 76 percent of the lead counsel in the civil cases studied, among other findings.

The study is based on a random sample of cases filed in 2013 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and provides data on the uneven level of participation by men and women lawyers in civil and criminal litigation. It identifies characteristics of cases, practice setting and more that impact the extent to which men are more likely to fill lead counsel roles, and notes the following disparities:

  • In civil cases, men are three times more likely than women to appear as lead counsel and trial lawyers.
  • Men are four times more likely to appear as trial lawyers in criminal cases.
  • Women are less likely to be lead counsel in contract, tort, labor and intellectual property cases.

Suggested best practices are offered to address these findings, including ways that law schools, law firms, clients, judges and individual lawyers can increase gender diversity among trial lawyers.

The authors of “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table” are Stephanie A. Scharf, partner at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC, and Roberta D. Liebenberg, senior partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black RPC. They are available for interviews by contacting Jennifer Kildee at or by calling 202-662-1732. 

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