Evolution of Maternalism in Corporate Law

I: Introduction

During the uncertain times of World War II,
Harvard University’s president was interviewed concerning the condition
of the law school. He stated that it wasn’t bad as he had expected,
given the war-time circumstances: “We have 75 students, and we haven’t
had to admit any women.” [1]

One would think that the legal industry would have
made giant strides towards remedying such primitive opinions. On the
contrary, a recent Harvard Law survey of large corporate firms found
that some male lawyers still drop pencils under boardroom tables as an
excuse to look at women’s legs, and take clients to strip clubs where
their female colleagues feel unwelcome. [2] Fortunately, not all firms
tolerate such behavior. This article aims to examine the obstacles
facing women and mothers in the field of corporate law, and what
actions some firms are taking to alleviate their unique burdens. 

II: Is the Glass Ceiling Shatterproof?

speaking, women have come a long way in the field of law. In 1975,
large law firm populations were 85.6% male and graduating law school
classes were 67% male. [4] In 2003, females made up 40% of the large
law firm population, and women constituted 48.3% of graduating law
school classes. [5] Women are more likely to work in the public sector
for the government and the judiciary than their male counterparts. [6] 
Even so, women that work in corporate law are more likely to leave
private practice and less likely to become partners than men. [7] A
10-year study of first year associates from the classes of 1985 and
1986 revealed that 19% of the men made partner in 10 years, while only
8% of women made partner in the same period.  [8] In 2004, women
constituted one-third of 8th-year associates, but only
one-fifth of that year's new partners. [9] Pay differences also reflect
a gender disparity, as women are paid approximately 60% of men’s
earnings. [10]

As it stands today, women comprise 44% of
associates, and only 17% of all partners are women. [11] In recent
years, women have had higher law school grades than men, on average.
[12]  Studies have shown that discrimination towards women is no longer
a significant factor in the hiring process; today, attrition is the
real problem. [13]  Women are often penalized for devoting too much
time to family. Such penalties include through lower salaries, slower
promotions, or removal from the partnership track altogether. [14]
Compounding that problem is the reality that societal conditioning has
taught women not to ask assertively for what they want in a working
world that has a preexisting bias against females, which further
worsens their situation. [15]

When women wrestle with becoming the impossible –
a combination of Super Mom-power attorney – the unfairness of being
simultaneously a mother and a working attorney becomes apparent. Women
are more likely than men to interrupt their careers to care for elderly
parents, in-laws, and children. [16] Psychologically, women feel and
tradition dictates that the burden of child rearing falls squarely on
them. [17] Female attorneys must work harder to prove themselves than
men to achieve an equivalent salary, and meeting the billable hour
requirement is a daunting and sometimes insurmountable obstacle when
raising a family. [18] The difference in societal attitudes towards
women and men in the familial context becomes most apparent when
children become a factor. A Women's Legal Defense Fund representative
commented, "A woman who does less than everything for her child is seen
as a terrible mother; a man who does more than nothing is praised as a
wonderful father." [19] A prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer and 1960s
graduate of Harvard Law describes the lives of her generation of women
lawyers as: "We worked, we married, sometimes we divorced, we served
our communities, had children, served their schools, tried to do it
all, have it all, be it all; never forgetting, particularly, that we
were supposed to be living greatly in the law, and that we were, in
fact, just trying most of the time to stay alive." [20]

III: External Forces for Change

A. Legislation

Though women may walk a tougher road than their
male counterparts, there are few law firms that dare to blatantly
demonstrate their indifference to the plight of the female attorney. In
today’s Title VII world, one will be hard pressed to find a law firm
willing to test the litigious waters of obvious gender discrimination.
For example, Dechert LLP was sued in 2000 for sex discrimination by one
of their former partners after she returned from maternity leave. [21]
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title VII, and the Family and Medical
Leave Act are all powerful weapons that a working mother can use in her
arsenal against a discriminatory employer. [22]

               B. Market Forces

Not only is there governmental pressure for women
to receive equal treatment regardless of decisions to have children,
but large clients are increasingly putting the heat on firms to
diversify their staff. [23] Wal-Mart, a company generating about $200
million of legal business annually, has stopped giving new business to
some firms and withdrawn their business entirely from two others whose
corporate teams did not meet their diversity standards. [24] Similarly,
DuPont’s senior counsel stated that it “parted ways” with a firm that
did not adequately support their diversity efforts. [25] Over 100
companies, including household names such as American Airlines, Boeing
and General Motors, have signed a pledge to track and benchmark the
numbers of minority partners and associates rising through the ranks of
the law firms they employ. [26]  Some companies take it a step further,
refusing to settle for a ‘beauty contest’ with ‘token lawyers’ on a
working group, and insist on receiving billable hour reports for all
lawyers, including minorities. [27]

            C. Female Clients

Women are also becoming a force to reckon with in
the business-to-business arena, their legal services purchasing power
skyrocketing along with the rates of growth for women-owned businesses.
[28] More so than men, women business owners seek more long-term
relationships with the law firms that they employ, and often demand
that these firms employ women in high level positions. [29] 
The National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, which
advocates for those groups working in corporate law, hosted an expo
late last year in which in-house counsels could interview the top
minority and women-owned law firms nationwide. [30] As women continue
to climb the corporate ladder in the business world, attorneys may have
to update their client-wooing locales from sporting events and strip
clubs to include spas and wine tastings.

IV: Changes From Within:

Many firms are mindful of the challenges faced by women in corporate
law and have instituted programs to assist their progress and
advancement within firms. [31] Additional initiatives designed
specifically for working mothers in these forms take into account the
countervailing pressures of motherhood and family life. [32] They
recognize that to retain women’s talent, they must change their
business strategy. [33]            

            A. Programs and Initiatives:

Networking, mentoring, retreats, and seminars on
navigating law firm life as a working mother all help to create a more
comfortable environment for women balancing their work and home lives.
[34] For example, Nixon Peabody has instituted a formal mentoring
program that requires that all young lawyers, regardless of gender,
have one senior colleague to turn to. [35] Epstein Becker& Green,
P.C. enjoys a 50% female attorney ratio, and 25% of its partners are
women – one of the higher percentages in the industry. [36] A large
percentage of their clients are high-level women general counsels, CFOs
and CEOs. [37] The firm attributes part of their success to
‘professional women’ events such as wine, champagne and caviar
tastings, self-defense and cooking classes, and golf clinics. [38]
Chicago’s Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal organized a trip to the
Lincoln Park Zoo to allow a partner and the deputy counsel of Conoco
Phillips to talk business while both women’s children played at the
zoo. [39] Other Sonnenschein clients were also taken to such unorthodox
locales as the Joffrey Ballet and a Madonna concert. [40]

Seminars held for women attorneys include tips and
discussion groups on how to better manage their time, network, and
develop business contacts. [41] Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s
networking functions included an event which featured Republican
Party’s Mary Matalin as a speaker.  [42] Others firms have professional
development programs on speech and communication to help women level
the male-oriented playing field of diction – to speak with more
authority and confidence, without being overly aggressive. [43]

On-site daycare centers are also becoming popular
within large law firms such as Arnold & Porter, whose Washington
D.C. office’s daycare center stays open late and on weekends for their
attorneys’ children. [44] Among unique initiatives for other large
firms are breastfeeding lounges and summer child care that includes
internships for support staff’s teens. [45]

            B. Work Time Flexibility

Telecommuting, flexible hours, and part time
schedules are also helping women balance their equally demanding home
and work lives.  Large law firms such as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw
Pittman and Covington & Burling have created programs where part
time workers can still reach partner level, and have increased paid and
nonpaid maternity leave benefits. [46] Attorneys at Dickstein Shapiro
can reduce their hours to 50% or 80% of a standard work week, based on
a 1,950 billable hour year; pay is prorated to the amount of hours
worked. [47] If these attorneys work longer hours during a trial or
deal closing, they can work fewer hours after the hectic time has
passed. [48] Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s new maternity
leave policy, FRM (Flexible Return from Maternity), allows attorneys to
return to the firm in a reduced schedule. [49] New mothers and fathers
can work shorter days for up to a year, coordinating with the firm to
work out a flexible schedule – or they can switch to an indefinite part
time schedule if they wish. [50] To ease separation anxiety, infants
can be left with the child care center on the premises. [51] Weil,
Gotshal & Manges’ press release in November of last year announced
an unusual state of affairs – the majority of its partnership class for
2006 was female.[52] Two of those partners fall into the new category
of “Flex-Time Partner,” which allows partners to work on a flexible
schedule. [53] Allen & Overy provides maternity coaching support to
help a new mother hand over her existing work to colleagues and to
manage her return to the workplace at the end of her leave. [54]
Another option that Allen & Overy provides is that of a 3-year
career break, which pledges a best effort to rehire an employee at the
same level at which they left.

V: Conclusion:

There is still much progress to be made on behalf
of women in corporate law, but external forces and internal initiatives
are combining to make the industry increasingly friendly and
accommodating to women and mothers. Corporate law firms must
assiduously monitor their newly implemented initiatives’ effectiveness,
lest these programs become a short lived fad. [55]

Discouraging statistics on female promotion,
salaries, and attrition may abound; however, one University of Michigan
survey reveals an uplifting result: out of all the lawyers that
graduated from that institution, it is women with children that rank
highest in contentment. [56] The survey notes that these women are
under constant pressure, but they are satisfied with how their lives
have turned out. [57] The survey notes, "They enjoy their family lives.
They enjoy their jobs. And to the extent each causes stress, each also
provides respite from the other.” [58]


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United
States, American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, (Aug. 11,
2006), available at: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/publicinfo/speeches/sp_08-11-06.html.

[2] Abdon M. Pallasch, Woman Laws, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 29, 2006, available at: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/152912,CST-NWS-womenlaw29.article.

[3] Tina Liang, Mothers Need Not Apply: Obstacles Facing Women in the Hiring Process, U. Ill. J. Bus. L. Soc’y, Mar 6, 2007, http://iblsjournal.typepad.com/illinois_business_law_soc/2007/03/mothers_need_no.html.

[4] Diversity in Law Firms, U.S. Equal Emp.Opportunity Comm’n, Oct. 22, 2003, available at: http://www.eeoc.gov/stats/reports/diversitylaw/index.html. (hereinafter Diversity)

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Mary E. Corcoran & Mary C. Noonan, The Mommy Track and Partnership: Temporary Delay or Dead End?, 596 The Annals of Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci., 130, 130 (2004).

[8] Diversity, supra note 4.

[9] Elana
Kagan, Dean, Harvard Law School, Leslie H. Arps Memorial Lecture at the
Association of the Bar of the City of New York (Nov. 17, 2005),
available at: http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/abnyspeech/.

[10] Id.

[11] Elizabeth Katz, Gender Influences Law Firm Hiring, Promotion, Sociology Professor Says, VA. L. News & Events, Feb. 17, 2006, available at: http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/news/2006_spr/gorman.htm.

[12] Id.

[13] Martin C. Daks, The Challenges Women Attorneys Still Face, 19 NJBiz 21, 1, May 22, 2006.

[14] Id.

[15] Joyce Gannon, Firms Teach Women Lawyers the Importance of Networking to Climbing Law Firm Ladders, Pitt. Post-Gazette, Oct. 18, 2006, available at: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06291/730772-28.stm.

[16] Id.

[17] The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Remarks on Women's Progress in the Legal Profession in the United States, 33 Tulsa L.J. 13, 20 (1997).

[18] Lisa Elbecker, Arguing for Change: Rikleen Book Details Law Firms’ Failure in Helping Women Succeed, Telegram & Gazette, July 23, 2006, http://www.telegram.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060723/NEWS/607230462.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Joanna Grossman, Pregnancy and Partnership: A Law Firm Partner’s Anti-Discrimination Suit, Findlaw, Dec. 19, 2000, http://writ.lp.findlaw.com/grossman/20001219.html.

[22] Id.

[23] Karen Donovan, Pushed by Clients, Law Firms Step Up Diversity Efforts, N.Y. Times, July 21, 2006, at C6, available at: http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/07/21/business/web.0721legal.php.

[24] Jonathan Birchall, Wal-Mart Presses Suppliers on Diversity, Fin. Times, Feb. 20, 2007 at 1.

[25] Donovan, supra note 20.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Leslie A. Levin & Mary Mattis, Corporate and Academic Responses to Gender Diversity, Equal Opportunities Int’l, July 12, 2006 at 160.

[29] Id.

[30] Renuka Vishnubhakta, Minority, Women-Owned Firms: Hiring for Diversity, 29 Nat’l L. J. 15, 23 (2006).

[31] Wendy Davis & Lisa Pulitzer, More Than Just Talk: Law Firms Seek to Equip Women With Tools for Career Advancement, N.Y. L.J. Mag., Feb. 2007 at S14.

[32] Timothy L. O’Brien, Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms?, N.Y. Times, Mar. 9, 2006, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/19/business/yourmoney/19law.html.

[33] Id.

[34] Davis & Pulitzer, supra note 31.

[35] Id.

[36] Epstein Becker & Green’s Women’s Initiative, Metro. Corp. Couns., May 2006 at 41.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Abdon M. Pallasch, Woman Laws, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 29, 2006, available at: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/152912,CST-NWS-womenlaw29.article.

[40] Id.

[41] Victoria Hurley-Schubert, Old-Girl Networks Reach Out to Extend a Hand, 20 NJBiz 4, 1, Jan. 22, 2007.

[42] Joyce Gannon, Firms Teach Women Lawyers the Importance of Networking to Climbing Law Firm Ladders, Pitt. Post-Gazette, Oct. 18, 2006, available at: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06291/730772-28.stm.

[43] Sally Rosenberg Romansky, Confident Communication Key to Success: Communication As a Strategy to Retain and Promote Women Attorneys, 12 Law Firm P’ship. & Benefits Rpt. 5 (2007).

[44] 100 Best Companies, Working Mother Mag., Oct. 2006, at http://www.parsintl.com/12274_elink.pdf.

[45] Molly Selvin, Career Moms Find New Ways to Make it Work, L.A. Times, Sept. 8, 2006; see also 100 Best Companies, Working Mother Mag., Oct. 2006, available at: http://www.workingmother.com/web?service=direct/1/ViewTopListingPage/dlinkCategory&sp=14&sp=77.

[46] Id.

[47] Wendy Davis & Lisa Pulitzer, More Than Just Talk: Law Firms Seek to Equip Women With Tools for Career Advancement, N.Y. L.J. Mag., Feb. 2007 at S14.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Id.

[51] Id.

[52] Peter Lattman, Weil’s Partnership Class Has More Women Than Men: News?, The Wall Street Journal Online Law Blog, Nov. 27, 2006, http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2006/11/27/weils-partnership-class-has-more-women-than-men-is-this-news/.

[53] Id.

[54] Nikki Tait, Innovative Lawyers: Work/Life Issues are Hitting Home, Fin. Times Rpt. at 12, June 29, 2006.

[55] Donna Walter, Panel of Experts Tell Women Lawyers How to Conquer Gender Bias at Firms, Daily Rec. Kan. City, June 28, 2006.

[56] The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Remarks on Women's Progress in the Legal Profession in the United States, 33 Tulsa L.J. 13, 20 (1997).

[57] David L. Chambers, Accommodation and Satisfaction: Women and Men Lawyers and the Balance of Work and Family, L. & SOC. INQUIRY 251, 282 (1989).

[58] Id.


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