As a Female Financial Advisor for several decades, I have been an advocate for women all these years, being a professional myself. I have seen wonderful shifts and transitions that women have instigated themselves in order to build equality between the genders.
Today, in a jam-packed industry, the legal profession carries some of the most prestigious and highly regarded professionals in the world. That is because people who go through the process of passing the bar have also been vital in shaping and influencing our society as a whole.
Over the past few decades, we have specifically seen a great increase in the number of women attorneys. No longer are we restricted to the court stenographer or personal assistants of law firm flunkies. Now, we can argue in front of the supreme court and lead groundbreaking decisions that influence and impact our lives within the United States that will undeniably reverberate around the globe.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to complete equality in the law field. We struggle to achieve true gender parity in terms of pay and the often all too common discrimination we face in hiring, college acceptance, and judgeships. Let’s look closer at the current status of women attorneys, what challenges are being faced, and the critical importance of trailblazing icons in the field.
History of Women in the Legal Profession
Love it or hate it, the legal profession has predominantly been filled by men. Not only because females were excluded from the backroom boy's clubs that directly impact hiring decisions, but because there were rules, regulations, and even laws restricting our access to practicing law. This often limited our roles to being legal clerks, law librarians, or simple assistants.
Then, in the 20th century, more and more women began to rally against these barriers by entering law schools and practicing law as fully licensed and bar-approved attorneys. That didn’t prevent the male-dominated field from discriminating against us and reinforcing the glass ceiling, but it was a start.
As more women began to embrace the legal field, new areas of expertise and the ability to argue propelled our gender into a place of power.
Current Status of Women Attorneys
Today, women make up approximately 40% of all attorneys across the United States, a significant increase from previous years. That includes at all specialties of law, from business law to immigration to criminal prosecution and defense.
Even with this progress, we still see women being wildly underrepresented in mentorship and leadership roles. That includes judges, firm partners, and firm owners. That is still a male-dominated level of legal interaction we are continuing to beat our hands against and a fundamental reason women attorneys face challenges in terms of pay equity, maternity leave, and work-life balance.
Finances and Women Attorneys
One of the most significant challenges faced by women attorneys is the pay gap between male and female attorneys. According to recent statistics, women attorneys earn only 82 cents for every dollar brought home by any male attorney in the same field or niche practice. This pay gap is even more significant for women of color, with Black and Latin X women earning even less. It is even worse if you add into the equation those with LGBTQ+ identities struggling for recognition in legal pursuits.
Besides pay, we also face disparity in finding a work-life balance. Even in the case of a firm partner that is female, society still expects her to watch the kids, do the laundry, and pick up the groceries. Until we are able to successfully combat the traditional gender roles of the past, we will continue to see women attorneys facing overwhelming criticism for ideals like fair and equitable maternity leave or protection from unwanted discrimination.
Importance of Trailblazing Icons
Despite the challenges and barriers faced by women attorneys, there have been many trailblazing icons who have paved the way for future generations of us in the legal profession. One of the most notable is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Not only was the Notorious RBG the second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, but she was also one of the most outspoken and fierce advocates for women's rights and gender equality. Her work and personal writings have inspired many of the activists and women attorneys seeking fair and equal rights under the constitution. If you ever get the chance, go and read On the Basis of Sex or watch the movie. You’ll get a better understanding of how tough it was to be a woman in the legal field trying to make a sustainable career for the future.
Other trailblazing women in the legal profession include Belva Lockwood, the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court in 1880, and Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. These women, and many others, have shown that women attorneys can achieve great things and break down barriers in the legal profession.
One of the best resources for understanding how women have advanced the legal profession is the Women Trailblazers Project by the American Bar Association. There you will find an oral collection of the most incredible minds in women-led legalization speaking of the challenges they faced, society’s view of powerful women, and even some of their arguments before courts. This is a fundamental resource we need to protect so more women can experience what we are battling and how far we have come whenever we feel discouraged.
The Future of Women Attorneys
As the US becomes more litigious and the power of the courts extends well into our democracy through political and legal challenges, we need more women now than ever to stand up. The best way to address the many unique needs of our gender as well as the intricate arguments supporting mothers, women of color, and those within the LGBTQ+ community, is to focus on more women entering the field of legal practice.
While we can celebrate those female politicians making the transition into political power, we should equally look toward the quiet leaders doing the hard work of deciphering, interpreting, and arguing law at every level, from the local courthouse to the highest court in the land.
The legal profession has come a long way in terms of increasing the number of women attorneys, but there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving gender parity and breaking down barriers for women in the profession. We, attorneys, face many challenges, including gender bias, the glass ceiling, pay equity, and finding a quality work-life balance.
We should do more to celebrate trailblazing icons like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who have paved the way for future generations of women attorneys. These lessons are critical to continue our ongoing fight for gender equality and breaking down barriers in the legal profession.
If you want a simple example, look to my team at Meyers Financial Services. We have worked hard for years by focusing on offering bespoke financial products, advice, and guidance to women in powerful positions. From the hardworking attorney to the business professional, we want to ensure you have the resources necessary to enjoy the fruits of your hard work down the road. Contact our team today, and let’s discuss how we can best meet your financial needs.
Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women in Sonoma, California helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.