ACR Brief: Women in the Law: How Far Have We Come?
March 23, 2022

Women in the Law: How Far Have We Come?
It is Women’s History Month, and while the history of women in the law includes much to celebrate, women still lag in representation and pay. In private practice, the needle is barely pushing 23 percent of the equity partners at law firms after several decades of near equal law school graduation rates. Women argue in appellate court much less frequently than men, and male general counsels make 39 percent more than female general counsels, according to one study. My colleague Megan Zwiebel wrote about the lack of women government speakers at December’s ACI FCPA conference; hopefully that is an anomaly. 

Some of these disparities, and the entrenched biases against women that affect their advancement, may be connected to the frequent departure of senior women lawyers from the profession and the “brain drain” that ensues, according to a 2019 ABA report, “Walking Out the Door.” At an ABA Women Rainmaking panel I participated in last year with one of the report’s authors Stephanie Scharf, she discussed understanding and dismantling the motherhood penalty, one of the major obstacles for women.

Lawyers with more experience representing certain clients have an easier time obtaining similar clients, and breaking that cycle is one aim of groups like the Women’s White Collar Defense Association (WWCDA), which was founded by Karen Popp, a partner at Sidley. WWCDA now has more than 2,500 members across the globe who help each other build business.

In the corporate enforcement space, for example, corporate monitors (a topic we write about frequently at ACR, most recently as part of the policy shift in the Monaco Memo) are overwhelmingly male. One study found that from 2004 to 2018, there were 40 white male FCPA monitors, and just three women and three non-white men. WWCDA launched its Monitor/Receiver Initiative in 2020, led by Kristin Koehler of Sidley and Michele Edwards of Stoneturn, to increase the number of women being considered for and obtaining engagements as monitors and receivers, in part, by promoting that fact that its members have worked on more than 150 DOJ matters and 45 SEC matters, covering all roles, all industries and all subject matters. 

Monitorships can open the door for many other kinds of opportunities for lawyers. “Having served as part of the DOJ appointed monitorship team for the Odebrecht matter, I know firsthand how important monitorships are to the establishment of women white collar defense attorneys as serious contenders for work in the arena,” Carrie H. Cohen, a partner at Morrison & Foerster and WWCDA awards program committee co-chair, told me.

Will we see improvement for women in the law in future Women’s History Months? Let us know your thoughts. You can email me or contact me via LinkedIn.

Rebecca Hughes Parker
Global Editor in Chief

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