A study of New York courtrooms shows women attorneys account for only 25 percent of lead counsel roles.
The study’s findings were released Thursday in a report by the commercial and federal litigation section of the New York State Bar Association.
Results were similar in commercial and criminal cases within the private sector, but women attorneys in the public sector fared far better, according to the report. “The low percentage of women attorneys appearing in a speaking role in courts was found at every level and in every type of court: upstate and downstate, federal and state, trial and appellate, criminal and civil, ex parte applications and multiparty matters,” the report said.
The study, conducted from September through December last year, included participation from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, two of the four federal district courts in New York, the state Court of Appeals, the Appellate Division and Commercial Divisions in the Supreme Court. In all, about 2,800 questionnaires were completed and returned by judges.
Among the results:
• Female attorneys represented 25.2 percent of the attorneys appearing in commercial and criminal cases in courtrooms across New York.
• Female attorneys accounted for 24.9 percent of lead counsel roles and 27.6 percent of additional counsel roles.
• Women’s representation as lead counsel was 31.6 percent in one-party cases but shrank to 26.4 percent in two-party cases, 24.8 percent in three-to-four-party cases and 19.5 percent in cases involving five or more parties. “In short, the more complex the case, the less likely that a woman appeared as lead counsel,” the report said.
• Female attorneys made up nearly 40 percent of those who appeared before the state’s Court of Appeals.
• In a sample size of 589 ADR cases, women were selected as arbitrators 26.8 percent of the time and selected as mediators about half the time.
The report also includes suggested solutions, such as law firm leaders assigning female attorneys to work with a partner who will not only see that they go to court, but that they also participate in the courtroom proceedings.
The report’s results were compiled by a task force of the state bar section, with former U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York helping to initiate the project.
“We hope the report is widely disseminated and studied by lawyers in the public and private sectors, in-house counsel, and members of the judiciary,” Scheindlin said in a statement. “The time has come to turn things around. We look forward to seeing a real improvement when we repeat the study in two years.”