Debra and Ron Post 4: What Do Women Want?


For information on the genesis of these posts and on who “Debra” is, click here and read the intro to “Debra and Ron Post 1.


Ron: Would you counsel women law students toward or away from BigLaw?

Debra: In my opinion, as I said in Post 1, training, opportunity, career development and networking are far better in BigLaw, even with all its shortcomings. Women, like men, need it; it needs us.  Like every other business institution, law firms need and benefit from women among their leaders.

Ron:  I am sure that they do but the issue is the distribution of scarce resources (women lawyers) where society most needs them (and here would be the key place in which we would have a difference of opinion – more later).

Debra:  Women lawyers are not scarce resources.  My understanding is that in excess of 50% of law school grads are in fact women.  Society needs us in plenty of places, to be sure, but there are enough of us to go around and to represent more than a tiny percentage of the leadership in big firms.

Ron:  Boy do I disagree.  They are a “scarce resource.”  As I have mentioned often, 95% of the women (and the men) who have graduated from “selective” law schools (not the best, just the ones difficult to get into) start out overrepresenting the 1% wealthiest of society while most of society has no access to lawyers.

Debra:  Your comment doesn’t seem responsive to the scarce resources point.  Women – and, for that matter, men – may be scarce resources in the public interest sector, but that is an allocation issue, not a resource constraint.  There are plenty of lawyers in the US and plenty of law students in US law schools.

Ron: The fundamental question is what women (and men) law students envisioned and wanted to do with their legal training. I spoke to the entering class at Notre Dame Law School. I asked about their career plans. The plurality wanted to represent women and children. To coin a phrase “What Do Women Want?

What if the answer is that a majority want to represent women, children and men in human and civil rights areas such as housing, education, family, healthcare, environmental, employment discrimination, plaintiff injury and gay rights?

Debra:  I think it’s sexist and incorrect to presume women have different goals than men in pursuing careers in the law.  Like men, women come in all shapes and sizes, and our goals run the gamut.  Many men no doubt want to practice in human and civil rights areas such as housing, education, family, healthcare, environmental, employment discrimination, plaintiff injury and gay rights, just as many women want instead to be business lawyers, judges, venture capitalists and what have you.  We have to take great care not to make sweeping generalizations about anyone’s goals or talents based on gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.  I’m sorry to sound like a political tract here, but I see too much jumping from the specific to the generic where women and minorities are concerned.  It’s not fair or sensible to make assumptions for these reasons – a fact of which I remind myself every time I’m tempted to disdain stay-at-home moms!  🙂

Ron:  I referred to women because our original subject had been about women so I continued to use them as the subject.  You are correct that men certainly want to practice in human and civil rights. But for years I have used a form which allows clients to select a variety of areas of practice that appeal to them. I would πhave to say that more women chose family and divorce and more men chose owning a professional sports team ( – :

Debra: Might you have some adverse selection going on here? If your base group features a plurality of people who don’t want to be BigLaw or business lawyers in the first place, these practice area choices may be a foregone conclusion.  Or maybe you’re seeing the unsurprising results of all the pressure to choose “humane/girly” areas that many women feel from firms, law schools, parents, the whole white male power structure that permeates our society.  Or maybe I’m just a feminist baby-boomer with a real fire in her belly who doesn’t want to admit that her younger sisters feel differently in larger numbers than they once did.  🙂

Ron: You are probably quite correct here. Much of my efforts have had the label of “public interest” attached to them and many of those seeking my advice would likely be predisposed to such areas. Again, what I would like to see is a massive restructuring of legal education so that law students (women and men) make informed choices about what they want to do after graduation.