I posted this little factoid on our Facebook page the other day:
“The statistics are unsettling: Approximately 34% of attorneys in private law firm practice are females and only 3% of these women are in a management partnership at the largest 200 law firms. And if women make it to the top, they’ll likely be subject to gender-based income discrepancy, with female shareholders at the largest 200 firms making 89% of what their male colleagues are earning, according to the American Bar Association.”
I followed it up with the statement, ‘It’s a compelling argument to go out on your own or work within a small law firm.’ Of course, it was pointed out, ‘except then nothing ever changes’. (And here’s a little bit of inspiration with a H/T to Debra Bruce! Real life Atticus Finch’s daughter practiced law until she was 100 years old!)
Well, I suppose I come from a different perspective and clearly disagree. You can be the David in a Goliath firm and pave the way for others. It’s a noble cause and fought by many before each and every one of us. For those who want to take on this righteous battle, I applaud you. Truly. But at the end of the day, even in the 21st century, only a third of private practice attorneys are female, three percent are management.
However, change can (and will most likely) come from outside. Why? Because this sad statistic begins with the premise that Big Law is the top of THE mountain. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t share that view. Big Law to me is just one of the mountains you can choose to scale. Everyone of us, at least those who read this blog, know the definition of success is not cookie-cutter. Change can (and will most definitely) come from outside and it will steer the course of Big Law, too. It already is in so many ways. And women are a huge part of this change.
As more and more women succeed at starting their own firms, growing their own firms, hiring associates and staff, including virtual, they are changing the definition of success in the legal space. They are creating ‘family friendly’ firms (one of the unnecessary choices they are forced to make when employed at the majority of Big Law firms - with rare exception there are law firms building a culture which honors women.) The reality is there is a virtual army out there earning what they choose to earn and on their own terms instead of being devalued working somewhere else simply because of gender.
Imagine a client walking into a small law firm and saying to their consulting lawyer,
‘I was willing to pay $300 an hour for the representation but seeing that you are a woman I’m only going to pay you $250. I have no rational basis for this as I expect the same high quality work or I wouldn’t hire you. It’s just that you are female so I feel justified in discounting and devaluing your time.’
Well, that’s what happens when you work for a Big Law firm according to the statistics provided. It doesn’t matter their rationale. At the end of the day, it’s reflected in the paycheck. So, why brutalize yourself trying to make the change from within? Let’s use the adage ‘be the change you seek in the world.’ Make the changes in your own solo/small firm environment. The time is ripe.
And if you’ve done so, let me know as we might feature your story.