Women Not Attending Law School

businesswoman2.JPG Mike Madison has a post about advice for a new law dean that suggests law schools should emulate business schools and require that a prospective student have a few years of work experience before being admitted. [UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Prof. Madison’s post speaks of “a minimum of two years’ of experience in the world before enrolling in school.” I speak of work experience which for me absolutely includes a broad range of activities, not just Wall Street or similar jobs.] Oddly enough it appears that women are not heading straight to law school but not because of any such policy. The National Law Journal reports that the number of women in law school has dropped since 2002. The article indicates that the reason behind this shift is unclear: some point to women being able to earn more than men right out of college in several major metropolitan areas; some note that a few newer schools have greater disparity in enrollment and they may skew the figures; and some note that the press has covered how law firms may not be the most friendly places for women given the lack of female partners and trouble in retaining women in general at firms (“In 2006, just 17.9 percent of partners in law firms were women, according to NALP, a nonprofit organization that tracks legal careers. Meanwhile, 44.3 percent of associates were women.”) Last the article suggests that even with flexible hours, day-care, and paid maternity leaves, the bottom line at most firms creates a world where one is on-call all the time and the hours are not what women want. Maybe, but that seems inaccurate.

The article offers a woman who went to Morgan Stanley for the “instant gratification” of a high-paying job, a year-end bonus, and living in Manhattan rather than three more years of school as an example of better options for women. One partner suggested that women are not going into law because “They’ve grown up with parents that work these crazy hours. They don’t want to do it.” Right so they go to investment banks for the laid back hours and to join the myriad women at the top of the investment bank world. With that choice in mind, something else may be in play.

It may be that women are heading for jobs in part because they are seeing that going to law school as some sort of default is not so wise and immediate opportunities are simply available. If so, after a few years maybe they will look to law school as a possibility. In other words, although law firms and their retention problems probably do figure into the equation, the article seems to suggest that women do not want to work hard. That cannot be accurate if they are choosing the other job options out there. None of these statements is to undercut the point that law firms will likely have to change their environment if they are to retain women. Indeed, if women are choosing to work but just not at law firms that may say something rather dire about law firms.

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12 Responses

  1. Matthew Smith says:

    It might actually be because of discrimination in schools. I have a friend who went to Law School in Boston. There she was harrassed for being a woman in law school. She was even shoved down the stairwell by a student. When she went to the school to complain they told her that she should probably find another school. The law schools in our country do not want women.

  2. Anthony says:

    “Mike Madison has a post about advice for a new law dean that suggests law schools should emulate business schools and require that a prospective student have a few years of work experience before being admitted.”

    Great, another barrier to entry to keep the economically disadvantaged and other non-elites out of the legal profession.

  3. John Smithering says:

    Work experience? Working is mindless. There is no tangible benefit to requiring work experience, except proof that the person is a sheep. Baa!!

  4. Mike Madison says:

    Anthony and John,

    At least one of you studied law and, I assume, learned to read closely. Re-read my post. I don’t suggest two years of *work* experience. I suggest two years of experience *in the world.* Join the Peace Corps. Volunteer in a soup kitchen. Fight forest fires. Dig ditches. I don’t think that new law students should be required to work on Wall Street.

    You want to ensure that elites capture the majority of law school slots? Let students come straight out of college, so that academic reputation, GPAs, and access to LSAT prep courses are the top predictors of access to elite law schools. You want to ensure better access for economically disadvantaged and the non-elite applicant? Value non-academic experience.

  5. Anthony says:

    Mike, if you read my comment carefully you’ll see that I said this barrier to entry will keep more economically disadvantaged and non-elites out of the profession. Volunteering is all well and nice, but I’d love to hear how someone coming from an economically disadvantaged background is going to be able to afford to work for free for two years.

    As for valuing non-academic experience, I’m confused as to why you think the same students who attended pricier colleges and have access to LSAT prep courses are not also going to have access to better non-academic experiences. Someone who comes from an economically disadvantaged background is not going to be able to afford to spend two years of her life taking care of AIDS patients in Africa or feeding the homeless at the local soup kitchen. The people who are going to be able to do such fulfilling experiences are going to be those who can afford it–namely, those coming from upper-middle to upper class backgrounds.

    As for paying jobs, once again, background matters. Harvard graduates will have their pick of both Wall Street jobs and “fulfilling” jobs that pay less but are the type most would consider a “great experience.” In contrast, graduates of local state schools (and by that I don’t mean UCLA, but Cal State LA) are going to end up with months (or even years) of unemployment and/or waiting tables to make ends meet while looking for an entry-level job that they won’t feel ashamed to list on their resume.

    Of course I’m sure you’ll argue that you’re merely proposing two years of any experience, and waiting tables for two years won’t be held against someone. Unfortunately, I just don’t buy that, because it’s already a well known fact that law schools already discriminate against individuals based on the quality of their work experience. There is absolutely no reason to believe that they won’t continue to differentiate applicants based on the quality of their experiences if there was such a requirement. In the current system, waiting tables for two years simply is not valued nearly as much as working for an investment bank for two years. Maybe you feel differently, but your thinking is not in line with most deans of admissions.

    Of course this isn’t even getting into the horrible impact this would have on most law students. Quite frankly I’m shocked that a professor from Pitt Law would make this proposal, given that a full 10 percent of students at your own law school are still unemployed nine months after graduation. I’m not even get into the unemployed at graduation rate, or the number of contract attorneys and insurance defense associates that are among the 90% employed (see this recent WSJ article and the jdunderground.com message boards for more on what things are like for the typical law student after graduation). I could be sympathetic to public service or other requirements for those attending schools where virtually everyone comes from an upper-middle class background and works at an AmLaw firm after graduation, but given the type of “life experience” the typical law student immediately begins to endure after graduation, is it really necessary to make their suffering even worse by forcing another two years of unpaid or low paying work on them (and down the road giving them a choice of either losing their last two years of income or their two years of retirement)?

  6. Deven says:

    Well, I was hoping to start a discussion about women entering law school but as that has not happened let’s engage with the question at hand. I agree with Mike. The general idea of some level of real world experience should figure into a school’s policy. Anthony, I am not sure where you get the idea about Deans. Perhaps it is from your school but let me try to flesh out the notion as I see it.

    If someone applies to a law school, has B range grades and 75th to 80th percentile LSATs, they may have a harder time gaining admission to many schools.

    Now add in the fact that this person has had a job (not waiting tables but not at a Wall street or other higer end job) perhaps as a sales or marketing person. Furthermore their references are not elite professors but middle managers who can speak of the person’s hard work and focus. Insofar as that person reflects some of the part-time students I teach, they often perform better and bring a great, practical experience to their studies and the classroom.

    Furthermore, even if one assumes that such a requirement favors elites, having such people go out and work a bit may reduce some of the entrenched attitudes about which you seem to care. So even if it fosters a system you don’t like, it may push it in a better direction.

    I do not think that such a system would disfavor those you describe. Still it might be interesting to see whether the business schools open up their admissions with such rules or whether they reflect the class issue you raise.

    The point I am trying to make is that an admissions office might be wise to look at more than just the grades, LSATs, etc. and include work or life experience as decisions are made. Of course LSATs etc. would play a role but when choosing between someone right out of college with slightly higher grades and LSATs than someone with some life experience but with slightly lower grades and LSATs, the one with more experience is a more interesting candidate and may even perform better in law school. This model would, I think, favor those who you argue are harmed by considering experience.

  7. Anthony says:

    I’m not trying to argue that experience is irrelevant or harmful (though it seems John is arguing that point). My qualm is with the idea that law schools should require two years of experience as a prerequisite to attending law school. Obviously an applicant’s experience (or lack thereof) is an important aspect of the evaluation process, and schools do take it into account (though it likely only has a determinative impact at the margins, given the very large role played by GPA/LSAT).

    I also agree that admissions offices should look at more than just GPA and LSAT. I just think there’s a better way to do it than forcing a two year experience requirement on all law school applicants.

    But, I didn’t mean to hijack your blog post, so I’ll stop here, and perhaps continue the discussion elsewhere.

  8. Mike Madison says:

    Only a brief reply to Anthony:

    What admissions directors do today isn’t my concern. The idea I floated was what I would recommend that a new Dean do in a new law school. I assume that a new Dean gets to tell a Director of Admissions what to do. (In my new school, the admissions office has a Director, not a Dean.) It would be idiotic to implement the proposal by reinscribing the hierarchies that afflict current law school admissions.

    The fact that so many graduates of my own law school have difficulty finding permanent employment is a big reason why I think that the proposal is a good idea. Among the lessons of the WSJ story is that schools like mine are accepting too many students who are not really interested in law or being a lawyer, and we are graduating too many students into a job market that is already saturated. Law school is the option of last resort for far too many college grads, and floating unprepared into the contract or insurance defense market is the option of last resort for far too many law school grads. I’ve seen plenty of both at Pitt. I saw plenty of the former at both Harvard and Stanford. And there are plenty of new Harvard and Stanford grads who march off to BigLaw firms, paying their debts but despairing of their choice of career. And that doesn’t begin to count the BigLaw partners who feel the same way. Could law schools do more to open up job markets beyond the law firms? Yes. Could law schools do more to teach students how to navigate the waters of an entire career, rather than simply find that first job? Yes again. Should law schools reduce tuition, to lessen debt burdens of new grads and the pressure to look for the BigLaw brass ring? Yes — though that requires state buy-in at public universities and university-level buy-in almost everywhere. But in general, I’m not disturbed by the prospect of keeping a surplus of new lawyers from shots at the illusory brass rings that BigLaw firms often offer.

  9. Margaret says:

    Wow, look at all these men talking about women not attending law school.

    I think a lot of women don’t choose law school because of the style of teaching that goes on in law school. Not that the Socratic method (or whatever idiosyncratic version a particular instructor uses) is bad per se — what I mean is that girls tend to hit that “magic” age sometime in the 7th or 9th grade where they start to be socialized not to speak up in class. So they get to law school, after their last four years of high school and four years of undergrad not learning to be assertive enough to answer questions and participate in class discussions.

    I think there are at least three ways to get more women into law school. First, schools can do a better job encouraging girls to assert themselves in class. This work would start in those early teen years when they tend to be the middle-school equivalent of backbenchers because being assertive is seen as being aggressive or “bitchy.” Second, law schools could do a better job recruiting non-traditional women students: women of a certain age, those with kids (hello, childcare), those who have been working for a few years. Then these women — who have mostly gotten over the fear of being perceived as “bitchy” for speaking up in class — can provide an example or even serve as mentors for women who head to law school straight out of undergrad.

    Finally, the professors can start actually calling on women who have their hands up. As a 2L, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve raised my hand in class to answer a question and had a professor call on a man behind me, or, worse, look me straight in the eye and then call on someone on the other side of the room. This and other kinds of disrespectful, sexist treatment in class don’t lead women students to paint a rosy picture of the law school experience to other women who may be considering law school.

  10. Matt says:

    As someone who was actually in the Peace Corps before law school I can say that it’s not actually necessary to have come from an economically privilaged background to be in the Peace Corps. You are paid a stipend that covers one’s living costs and student loans are defered during the time of service, if one has them. You don’t pay to travel to site and expenses are generally low. In the two years before I was a Peace Corps volunteer I made about $14,000/year so know first-hand that one need not have come from an economically privillaged background to join the Peace Corps. I certainly wasn’t the only member of group, as well, to have not come from a privillaged economic background. This is all neither hear nor there to the main point, but is worth pointing out, I think.

  11. Heather says:

    I have a few suggestions…

    For a empirical and scholarly look at the way the LSAT impacts women’s access to law school see, Portia Denied: Unmasking Gender Bias on the LSAT and its Relationship to Racial Diversity in Legal Education, 12 YALE J. LAW & FEMINISM 1 (2000).

    Research suggests that women fair better in admissions when law admissions offices weight Personal Statements and UGPA. This is because, on average, women have higher UGPAs and are better at writing about themselves than are men. “Better” here isn’t a clearly defined term. Yet, in my years of experience on admissions and fellowship committees I’ve noticed that men tend to write “narrative resumes” focusing on activities and work experiences in their Personal Statements. Women’s statements, on average, tend to weave “doing” in with values and lessons which gives the reader a deeper understanding of the candidate’s accomplishments. The differences in men’s and women’s UGPAs and Statements may not be obvious at your law school. It’s often subtle, but you know how small things in the aggregate start to tip…

    FTR, when I attended law school at the turn of the millennium my school was more than 60% female.

    The average age of my in-coming class was 24. (I’m female and I was 28 when I entered law school. One woman in my class was older than me.) The average incoming age suggests our admissions committee valued “a couple of years experience in the world.” The average age on an in-coming class has since risen to 25. On the other hand, it may also be a factor that the average alumni of two of our five top feeder schools took 4.5 years to graduate.

    Maybe women applied because there is gender parity (it’s balanced out since I graduated), high graduation rates, and solid post-graduate employment. My eight years of outreach and recruitment experience suggests fear of rejection motivates them to only apply where they think they can get in… as measured by that totally stupid average LSAT/UGPA grid. I have spent more time explaining how “averages” work, what the mean, and what they do NOT mean…

    Finally, if you want to recruit women to apply to your school, have women faculty. Shoot, have a woman Dean. Showcase women in leadership positions. If you’re concerned that women might not be applying because they aren’t interested in law firm “life” then provide plenty of examples of both men and women who utilize their law degrees, pay off their student loans, and make significant impacts in other ways. Put these examples in outreach materials. Invite representative alumni to speak on “alternatives to firms” or “this is law” panels. Bring on a “lawyer” in residence for a semester to co-teach a course, support a student journal/organization, and/or be available for non-traditional careers support. Oh, and have someone in your Career Services office who knows a lot about alternatives to law firms.

  12. A regretful woman says:

    First, schools can do a better job encouraging girls to assert themselves in class.

    This is totally irrelevant. The best law students are the most silent in class. The talkers are the failers.

    The article offers a woman who went to Morgan Stanley for the “instant gratification” of a high-paying job, a year-end bonus, and living in Manhattan rather than three more years of school as an example of better options for women.

    It is easier to make money quicker in investment banking, and the work is more satisfying. There is satisfying legal work out there, but unless you’re doing public interest and making tiddlywinks, it doesn’t come before your 9th year of practice. There are litigation partners at major firms who have only done 2 trials. That’s pathetic.