There has been a growing concern among law firms
that women lawyers are leaving in greater numbers than men,
leaving fewer in the partnership pool. But those women who
have deep scientific backgrounds like Hasko appear to be the
exception. They not only stay in firms but thrive, finding
success in the form of partnerships and peer recognition.
"If you have the right experience and the right skills set,
there are multiple opportunities to stand out in this industry,"
[Judith]Hasko said. [Hasko began as a researcher in biotech at
Genentech and is now a partner at Latham & Watkins]
Apparently, the difficulty of balancing family and work is not the main reason this reporter found women to be leaving big firm practice. Rather, dissatisfaction with the importance of the work they are given is a major factor. Women with science backgrounds are finding that the practices give them important clients and jobs, and thus stay with the firms. Also, women leave science as a profession because the scramble for lab space and funding, and a general feeling the field is inhospitable to women. Given the factor I just noted, I would guess that in science, as with non-scientific law, the women feel they are not being mentored and given meaningful work.
The image is a group of postcards of incarnations of the Goddess Iusticia (AKA Themis, Nemesis) from http://www.nationalmediaservices.com/justice/index.html?loadfile=catalog5_0.html
A large chunk of the female partners at some
firms are biotech and life-science attorneys. Of the 46
women who are partners at Boston-based Ropes & Gray, 18
are biotech and life-science partners. The firm's biotech
and life-science practice, around 60 attorneys with
24 male partners, mostly came through its recent merger
with New York IP firm Fish & Neave.
At 379-lawyer Fish & Richardson, 11 of the 35 women partners
are from the IP firm's biotech and life-science practice.
The group has about 85 attorneys. And out of the 24 female
partners at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner,
11 are from its biotech and life-science practice, which has
about 123 attorneys.
For decades, biology was considered more woman-friendly than
so-called harder sciences, like engineering and physics. "The
climate was more welcoming to women in the biological field
than in the physical sciences," said Denise Loring, co-head
of Ropes & Gray's IP litigation department, who holds a master's
degree in molecular biology.
But because of the constant scramble for research funds, many
women were driven out of the lab and into law, according to
Katharine Patterson, who has been a legal recruiter and consultant
for IP practices for 25 years.
"Law has provided a haven for scientific women," Patterson said.
"And their success disproves the theory that women can't succeed
in law firms because they can't do the work. Given the right
incentives, women would work as hard as men."
Indeed, conversations with a handful of successful biotech and
life-science attorneys provide a glimpse at why some women stay
and succeed in law firms despite the difficulty of juggling work
and family life.
Many of nearly a dozen women interviewed by The Recorder say
they put up with the long hours and punishing workload because
they feel they're given enough financial and professional incentives.
Many of the women interviewed said their scientific background
gave them opportunities early in their careers that were not open
to other junior attorneys, including direct client contact and close
interaction with senior partners. Many found mentors who took
great interest in their careers and gave them more opportunities.
And all said they feel professionally rewarded because their
contributions, in a red-hot practice area, are recognized by colleagues.
A 2001 study of top law school graduates by think tank Catalyst
found that while women struggle with work-family obligations, the
biggest reason women lawyers leave a firm is because they are
dissatisfied with the work itself or feel stalled in their careers.
All of the women in that study cited "interesting" and "important"
work as a primary reason they keep doing what they're doing.
See also this posting to the CalLaw blog, "More Woes for Women." The post includes links to several studies and other blogs discussing women's lagging salaries, and an important report from the ABA on women of color in the legal profession, here, "Visible Invisibility."
Here are some other resources on women in the practice of law
Nat'l Assn. of Women Lawyers (part of ABA)
Directory of Women Lawyers
Women's Legal History Project at Stanford
Women's Trial Lawyers Caucus (part of ATLA)
Black Women Lawyers Association
California Women's Lawyers association
Florida Association of Women Lawyers
Washington (state) Womens' Lawyers
Thompson, Hine Women Lawyers Initiative (a large, international firm, not all women)
Article "Why Women Make Great Trial Attorneys" by Jan Nielsen Little in the firm newsletter for Keker and Van Nest (San Francisco), June, 2006.