Friday, February 23, 2007

 

An Ill-Advised Article

This article left me scratching my head ... over just who was clueless enough to think up the idea for writing it. I hesitate to even discuss it here for fear of giving the article more publicity than it deserves, but here goes anyway.

The article is about women leaving the law and their reasons for doing so -- mostly because they decided that they weren't cut out for the law. (Okay, if you have to read it, it is Leaving Your Legal Career Far Behind by Debra Bruno of the Legal Times.) Women, the article seems to imply, are just clueless when it comes to understanding or anticipating what a legal career entails. One woman left the law because she belatedly realized she wanted to write, one believed that lawyers don't see the big picture of issues, another didn't like representing big business, and one is just too restless to focus on the law. Almost as an afterthought, the article quotes one woman who left because law firms are too inflexible in their scheduling.

Don't women have a hard enough time as it is fighting bias within the workplace without junk journalism like this?

Two facts:

Men leave law firms in exactly the same numbers as women. The most recent study published by the NALP Foundation shows that for entry level associates, 78% of men and 78% of women leave law firms by their fifth year. To highlight the departures of women while totally ignoring the departures of men feeds the misperception that women aren't committed to the law and aren't worth hiring or training because they'll just leave.

Men also leave law firms because practicing law isn't what they thought it would be. They do -- all the time. PAR has heard from men that they didn't like working for big business, found legal work too confining, or wanted to save the world. And, of course, PAR has heard from men that they don't like the high billable hours requirements at law firms, which is even harder for men to say for fear of being labeled "unmanly." By omitting any discussion of men's reasons for leaving the law, the article just reinforces the stereotype of women as uncommitted and lacking in seriousness.

Joan Williams, Jessica Manvell, and Stephanie Bornstein of the Center for WorkLife Law did a terrific study of how the media portrays the issue of women leaving the workforce ("Opt Out" or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict -- The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce). It demonstrates how articles like this one inaccurately portray the status of women in the workforce and how the inaccurate portrayals reinforce stereotypes that "drive men into breadwinner roles and women out of them." Ms. Bruno, I highly recommend the study to you. Maybe it will help you to understand the serious disservice your article did to women lawyers.

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