Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Leba Tolpin was not alone on her first day of law school at the University of Pennsylvania last fall. Looking around the classroom, Tolpin happily noticed that women made up about half of her class. “People have always told me that the legal profession was male-dominated. It was encouraging to see that as a female, I was not in the minority on the first day,” says Tolpin. In fact, Penn Law’s class of 2006 has a fairly even divide: 47 percent female to 53 percent male. Similar percentages can be found at most American law schools today. Gone are the days when graduating law school classes held only a few women. In the classroom, women have finally arrived. Unfortunately, things are not so balanced on the other side of the lectern. According to the Association of American Law Schools Statistical Report on Law School Faculty for 2002-2003, fully tenured female law professors make up 25.2 percent of law faculties nationwide and 34.2 percent of the total law faculty count. That’s certainly progress from the 13 percent of female law school professors in 1991. But with that rate of growth — roughly 1 percent a year — it will take another 25 years for women to reach the 50-percent mark. D.C.-area schools don’t always reflect the national averages. According to the 2005 Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, George Mason University has just 21.8 percent female faculty (tenured and nontenured); Georgetown, 24.8 percent; Catholic, 28.4 percent; George Washington, 31.4 percent; and American, 39.7 percent. In contrast, Howard has 46.7 percent female faculty, and the University of the District of Columbia a full 50 percent. Studies also show that women are less likely than men to receive the coveted leadership positions. For instance, women hold 16 percent of all dean positions in the country, according to a study by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. The dean positions matter, observers say, because deans influence hirings and promotions. “It’s safe to say that there’s been considerable progress, but 20 percent is not 50 percent,” says Joan Williams, a law professor and director of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University’s Washington College of Law. Lisa Lerman, a Catholic University law professor, agrees. “Things have improved in general, but it really depends on the school.” Why do women continue to lag behind? For the most part, the status of women law professors today merely reflects the “glass ceiling” for women in many professions. The reasons for its persistence are less clear: overt discrimination is either nonexistent or hard to prove. Nevertheless, a variety of factors that arise during the hiring or promotion process — including ones based on the personal choices of the applicants themselves — appears to cause a woman’s career inertia at all levels of law schools. CLIMBING THE RANKS Most people in academia would agree — a tenured position is the Olympic gold. Although each school has its own process, the most accepted route involves a strenuous regime of long hours (usually 50 hours a week), committee membership, research resulting in publication, student advising, and other activities. It usually takes five to six years to earn tenure. And according to those who have made tenure, it’s much easier for those who are initially hired to a “tenure track” position instead of nontenure track. Kathy Zeiler started her academic career as a tenure-track associate law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center just last fall. Having never practiced law, she attributes her success in getting the coveted tenure-track position to personal choices. For instance, Zeiler, 35 and single, says, “I do not have children. Although I would like to start a family at some point, my plan is to wait until after I get tenure. “A school’s hiring policies might be part of the reason for the statistical differences, but a lot of it has to do with choices that people are making,” says Zeiler. “It really makes a big difference if you have time to dedicate to the job.” Can Zeiler’s experience be easily emulated by other women? Probably not. “Entering the law teaching market is quite competitive,” admits Carl Monk, executive director of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). “There are many more candidates than there are positions.” That’s one reason why schools can set the bar higher in applicants’ educational backgrounds. Schools used to hire applicants with at least some years of practice. However, Zeiler is an example of a more recent trend of hiring candidates fresh out of law school, especially those, like Zeiler, with advanced degrees. Zeiler has a doctorate in economics. Zeiler also participated in the AALS’s annual faculty recruitment conference held in the District each fall. Jokingly referred to as the “Meet Market,” the conference is an important tool in the academic job hunt as about 150 law schools nationwide participate. Successes notwithstanding, Lerman believes some routes are less accessible to women. Calling the hiring process an “old boy network,” Lerman says several of the top schools do not even participate in the conference. They already have candidates from an informal network. “Some of the faculty members on the faculty appointments committee are buddies with judges. Instead of looking to the conference for new hires, they’ll ask these judges who are ‘good academic material’ — meaning those that are serving as clerks. In the end, women are at a significant disadvantage because it’s a documented fact that fewer women attain these prestigious clerkships. More and more women are coming into the process without knowing anyone,” says Lerman. Zeiler’s own experience appears to corroborate this contention.”Networking is huge,” she says. “Having a small community of supporters was extremely helpful.” Besides clerkships and networking, what other factors do schools consider in hiring or promotion? Holly Maguigan, law professor at the New York University School of Law and co-president of the Society of American Law Teachers, says schools consider a broad range of factors: grades, advanced degrees, journal memberships. But the route to tenure is scholarship — and publication, of course. Lerman says this “overemphasis” on scholarship is a big reason why fewer women are found at top institutions or in tenured positions. “There are two reasons why women are not getting ahead. First, women tend to have closer relationships with students. They are more caring, and this type of relationship takes time away from research activities that goes toward tenure,” she notes. “Also, law schools with few women faculty are constantly asking their female professors to serve on committees. This would not be such a problem if there were more women faculty to begin with. In that case, the work would be spread out and shared among the group. Bottom line: the problem is that this type of service is not valued by schools when considering tenure.” “Academic institutions have their own gates in preventing certain individuals from getting to the pool of applicants under consideration,” agrees NYU’s Maguigan. “When it comes to hiring more women, there is sometimes a tension between the need for more diversity but also the need for the best and brightest or those that can produce substantial scholarship. It just depends on what the school’s priorities are.” WHOSE PRIORITIES MATTER? But as Zeiler’s experience shows, there are other reasons for fewer women in top positions. A woman’s personal choices matter, too. Joan Williams, author of Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It, describes the existence of a “maternal wall” of motherhood hindering women in academia. “A woman has to make a difficult decision — whether to have children or not. And either choice will have a significant impact on the future of her career.” Time-starved law professors with children often cannot maintain the long hours required for tenure, and so take nontenured spots. These positions also tend to pay much less. Williams describes this trend as the “pink collar ghetto.” “Women with children are desperate for any job where they can somehow use their legal skills,” says Williams. “They are a captive audience ripe for exploitation.” Lerman points out a pattern: the top women scholars often have no children. “High-status schools are the ones with more intense pressure to produce scholarship. These schools reward people who are not interested in having children.” Motherhood might also affect the ability to be hired in the first place. “Here you will see the ‘gap in the résumé’ problem,” says Williams. “Women that have a two- to five-year gap because of motherhood are considered to not be serious scholars. Even worse, schools won’t even consider those candidates who are more than seven years out of law school. Essentially, you’re wiping moms out of the labor pool.” Motherhood also hinders the ability to relocate — another factor that Williams says leads to lower positions and salaries. “To get the best jobs, you have to be flexible enough to relocate, and women, especially mothers, are less likely to have this flexibility.” “Nothing will change in academia,” Williams adds, “if you don’t get the hours required for tenure positions to come down. There are other factors to consider when deciding who gets tenure.” WHAT TO DO? So there are fewer women law professors. Why should schools want women in the first place? “The female students need role models,” says Barry Carter, a Georgetown law professor. “Also, by having a diverse faculty, both students and other faculty members benefit from the different perspectives that are provided.” Carter adds, “Women have played a major role at this school, holding important leadership positions as well. Take Dean Judy Areen, for instance. As dean, she’s been a wonderful role model.” Areen, a former classmate of Carter’s at Yale Law where she was one of seven women in the class, was dean of Georgetown Law for the last 15 years. She retired as dean this past spring and will return to teaching at the law center. “Areen had a major influence in terms of making it easier for women to come up,” says Zeiler. Some policies implemented under Areen’s tenure include a new child-care center, maternity and paternity leave, and the option of a part-time tenure track for traditionally nontenured positions such as legal writing instructor. A recent ceremony honored Areen. “It was moving to hear women faculty members who had been there since the beginning of Areen’s career who personally thanked her for changing the place,” says Zeiler. “I guess before her arrival there were not even mirrors in the bathroom.” Christine Garton is a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.