Bar News - January 19, 2007
Book Review - Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law
By: By Lauren Stiller Rikleen
A book review by Carley McWhirk
Lauren Stiller Rikleen’s Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law is a valuable contribution to understanding the challenges women face in the legal profession. Currently, the number of female students entering law school has exceeded, ever so slightly, the number of male students enrolling. Despite their increased presence, female attorneys, statistically, are more likely to leave the legal profession than their male counterparts and are less likely to make partner.
The disparity between the numbers of women entering the legal profession and the measure of women’s success as a whole in the profession is problematic, to say the least. Rikleen studies why this trend has persisted and suggests what can be done to remedy it.
Rikleen is a partner at the Boston law firm of Bowditch & Dewey and a member of the Boston Bar Association (BBA), where she served as president during the period when the BBA task force on Professional Challenges and Family Needs published a report titled, Facing the Grail: Confronting the Costs of Work-Family Imbalance (1999). In addition, Rikleen was appointed to the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.
This book is not only a view of the challenges women face as attorneys, but is also an analysis of the detrimental impact of large-firm culture on the legal profession that spills over into—and harms—the larger community.
Organized into three parts, the book overflows with the voices and opinions of lawyers speaking on the roles and challenges of being a woman in the legal profession and on the profession itself. Rikleen interviews both male and female attorneys from varied backgrounds and experiences, from seasoned partners to new associates. Part one focuses on the challenges women face as they try to succeed in the legal profession, with a focus on large firms. Part two looks at the unique issues women face and offers a range of managing partners’ perspectives on these issues. Part three sets forth a strategy for change.
Although overt discrimination towards women has almost disappeared in the last few decades, Rikleen identifies inadvertent discrimination as the force that derails women along their course to success. One example of such discrimination is the underlying attitude towards part-time work/family needs. Rikleen examines the stigma attached to part-time status; she says women who elect part-time status often continue to work full-time hours, albeit untraditional hours, without receiving recognition for their work.
“Rainmaking” is another area where discrimination affects a woman’s ability to participate effectively. Often, rainmaking events occur in traditionally masculine settings, such as on the golf course or at sporting events were women may not participate as readily. Rikleen suggests that managing partners and mentors become more aware of how the venues for particular events may exclude some people, even unintentionally.
Furthermore, Rikleen’s book offers a critique of the profession in its entirety, particularly the organizational structure of large firms. The fact that managing partners oversee the operation of firms can be a problem. Given the number of hours managing partners typically bill, the time available to devote to managerial issues is practically non-existent. No other business producing the amount of work that law firms produce relegates its management to workers consumed by separate work product.
When success is attributed to the greatest amount of time billed, managing partners are encouraged to deal with managerial issues as efficiently as possible. The effect of this “efficiency” is that the traditional system persists, although it is not the most effective—as evidenced by the large attrition rate of female attorneys.
Ultimately, the policy decisions firms make, such as the compensation model for part-time attorneys, is an ethical issue that firms are failing to acknowledge and address.
These are not issues for a bygone era. As women’s presence in the law has grown, so has the importance of these issues, yet they continue to percolate below the surface without being properly addressed.
For anyone who wants to step away from the day-to-day grind of being a lawyer and thoughtfully explore what it means to be a professional in the legal field and the issues women face, this book will strip away any naiveté one may have, causing discomfort and at times dismay. Not only is this book a compelling analytical study, but Rikleen has compiled an excellent bibliography for an in-depth look at other compelling topics, such as: ethics, mentoring, and work-life balance.
Developing the suggestions in this book would benefit the legal profession, its practicing attorneys and the community. Reading this book is one step in that direction.
Carley McWhirk is an attorney with the firm of Hebert & Uchida in Concord, NH. She has been a member of the NH Bar since 2005.