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The Legal Industry Is Still a Boys’ Club

Nov. 30, 2016

More women are earning law degrees, but they're stuck in low-ranked schools and low-paying jobs

A new report highlights the pervasive gender imbalance among America’s law students and lawyers. Women are still outnumbered in the country’s law schools, though they’re now close to comprising half of what’s historically been a heavily male profession. But those gains are reflected predominately in lower-ranked institutions, while the country’s more elite law schools remain dominated by men. Since women are less likely than men to be admitted to prestigious schools, they’re subsequently less likely to find high-paying work after they get their degree. This pattern is uniform across the country.

The report, an analysis of American Bar Association data titled “The Leaky Pipeline for Women Entering the Legal Profession,” found that while women outnumber men in obtaining college degrees, more men ultimately apply to law school. If women began applying at an equal rate, the researchers say overall law school applications would go up by 16%.

The lowest tier of law schools average a 55.9% female population, while the best have just over 47%. The cycle of women being relegated to seemingly inferior schools and thus beginning their careers at a competitive disadvantage has been growing since around 2000, and noticeably worsened in the last five years.

The research duo behind the report posited that perhaps women aren’t as aggressive as men in negotiating better scholarship deals, and that the legal industry itself might not be doing enough to rectify its public perception as a male-oriented sphere, a widespread image problem that discourages women from entering a number of professions.

“We noticed the dip in women and it was very disconcerting,” Nancy Staudt, dean of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, told the New York Times. “We have stepped up our efforts through social media and other means, to talk to those considering law school and those who have been accepted, and we try to find the right fit for them.”