Posts tagged ‘Leaky Pipeline’

April 23, 2011

Women Clerks at the U.S. Supreme Court

by Angela N. Johnson

Cynthia Cooper explores the gendered makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court clerks and the fact that women clerks seem to be stuck at the “1/3 mark,” having never comprised more than 1/3 of all U.S. Supreme Court Clerks.  The reason this is important, is that a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship is seen as a prestigious springboard into some of the most elite positions; when women are excluded, they inevitibly comprise a smaller portion of the eligibility pool for the most elite jobs (Cooper 2008).

These clerks are largely the crème de le crème of all clerks. According to Cooper, these clerks tend to have many things in common including, law degrees from elite schools where they graduated in the top of their classes, served as editors for their law reviews, performed research for key professors, and are alums of prestigious federal appellate court clerkships (many of the federal courts are seen as “feeder” courts to SCOTUS clerkships). Many of these informal eligibility requirements may factor into the fact the SCOTUS clerks are predominantly male. In examining the last 14 terms Cooper found that only 19 to 40 percent of the Supreme Court Clerks have been women. Given what we know about informal requirements, Cooper questions, “Is there a clog in the pipeline?” Cooper notes that it may be difficult to determine whether substantial discrimination in hiring exists because applicant data for these clerkships is held in close secret.  However in looking at the disparity within the types (prestige) of clerkships, Cooper examined the Judiciary Fair Employment Practices report of 2007 which included (for the first time) a gender breakdown for clerks in the federal bankruptcy, district, and appellate courts. This report showed that women comprise a majority (64.7%) of clerks to the less prestigious bankruptcy court clerkships; 59.89% for the district court clerkships, but just 42.4% of clerks for the federal court of appeals – the appellate clerkships are the most highly regarded and viewed as “feeder” courts to Supreme Court clerkships.  According to Cooper, this necessarily narrows the pool from which the Supreme Court draws.

In further examining the eligibility pool, Cooper notes a study conducted by David H. Kaye and Joseph Gastwirth.  When studying whether women are equally represented in the top positions on the flagship law journals, they found they comprised only one-third of the officers at Yale (35%) and University of Chicago (36%). Then when mapping people from feeder schools to feeder judges, they found that women comprised just 32% of those included in the eligibility pool.[1]

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April 22, 2011

Where are all the women SCOTUS litigants?

by Angela N. Johnson

At the time Tammy Sarver, Erin Kaheny, and John Szmer wrote The Attorney Gender Gap in U.S. Supreme Court Litigation, women occupied less than a quarter of the US. district court and courts of appeals seats, just one woman sat on the Supreme Court, and only 20 percent of law school deans were women (Sarver, Kaheny and Szmer 2008). Thankfully, the current statistics reflect some improvement, with women comprising roughly 1/3 of all judgeships (including 3/9 on the U.S. Supreme Court).  However, the number of women attorneys arguing in the United States Supreme Court continues to lag and the “leaky pipeline” seems to be at fault. While one may hastily conclude that the problem plagues only those women who have an interest in litigating in the highest court of the land, a closer look reveals that this disparity impacts all women (even nonlawyers, too!)  According to the authors, “Because the Supreme Court makes policies that affect the entire nation, and the attorneys that participate in litigation before the Court, in turn, influence the justices’ decisions, the makeup of the Supreme Court Bar is of paramount importance” Id. at 239.  To investigate the gender gap, the authors collected data on all attorneys participating before the Court over the 1993-2001 terms. Moreover, the authors explore some of the possible explanations for their findings.

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December 28, 2010

ABA Podcast: Fixing the Leaky Pipeline

by Angela N. Johnson

The ABA Commission on Women in the Legal Profession was created in 1987 and has become the national voice for women lawyers.  Current Chair, Roberta Liebenberg addresses troubling statistics and future plans to increase women lawyers’ participation and retention in law firms in a short 9 minute podcast available here.

According to Liebenberg, women lawyers made great strides but much work remains to be done. Women have been graduating law schools at approximately the same rate as men for the last two decades but women comprise only 16% of law firm equity partners; 14% of governing committees of law firms and just 6% of firms have women managing partners. 1/2 of all law firms have no women among their top rainmakers.

Liebenberg believes firm leadership must send a strong message that all actors (male and female) must be involved in securing equal opportunities and retention of female lawyers. Even clients can play a vital role in ensuring their female advocate is receiving the credit she earns for the work performed. 

Additionally, mentoring plays a vital role in career development – especially for young women lawyers. More seasoned female lawyers should reach out to young women lawyers to pass-on learned insights on office politics, work/life balance, etc. The commission is implementing a mentorship program by reaching out to 2L law students through an application process being handled by Ms. JD. The winning 2L’s will be known as Ms. JD fellows. Those fellows will be matched up with a committed female lawyer to serve as a mentor throughout their law school careers and beginning professional endeavors.  For more information about the Ms. JD fellowship, click here.