Bar News - May 21, 2014
Opinion: Why New Hampshire Needs a Women’s Bar Association
By: Gretchen Pyles
Why do we need a women’s bar association in New Hampshire, anyway? Several lawyers stopped by the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association table at the NH Bar Association Midyear Meeting in March to ask this very question. As executive director of the NHWBA, it’s a question I hear a lot, so I’m taking this opportunity to answer it.
Women are not yet treated equally in the legal profession. Progress has been made in the last few years, but more needs to be done.
The numbers tell the story. According to a February 2013 article from the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law,” female lawyers receive 47.3 percent of the degrees awarded from law schools during the 2010-11 academic year. In contrast, only 19.9 percent of women in private practice become partners, and only 15 percent are equity partners. Additionally, only 4 percent of the managing partners in the 200 largest law firms are women. Further, only 27.1 percent of federal and state judgeships go to women. These numbers need to increase.
In New Hampshire, 1,753 women are active members of the Bar, as compared to 3,539 men, according to association statistics for March 2014. Women make up 33.1 percent of the active New Hampshire Bar Association membership. Based on 2010 census data, however, the population of New Hampshire is 50.67 percent female and 49.33 percent male.
Including the recent appointment of Landya McCafferty to the federal bench in New Hampshire and Andrea Johnstone as that court’s next magistrate judge, the percent of women in the New Hampshire judiciary has risen to 30.3 percent. This is a step in the right direction. It is important, however, that our judicial branch reflect the population that it serves. Diversity on the bench is important to the New Hampshire citizens who turn to the courts for guidance and resolution of their differences. We should strive to make the judiciary representative of the overall population of the state.
The National Association of Women Lawyers, in its 2014 Annual Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, found that 64 percent of women occupy the lowest positions in firms (staff attorneys), while only 17 percent of women occupy equity partner positions. Data from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession shows that in 2011, female attorneys’ weekly salaries were only 86.6 percent of male attorneys’ weekly salaries.
In addition to the disparate treatment of female attorneys in terms of compensation and equity partnership, women face the ever-complicated issue of balancing work and family duties.
Generally, women tend to encounter different challenges in the workplace than men do, because they are still primarily responsible for childcare and the care of elderly parents. Juggling the demands of law practice and family has caused some female attorneys to leave the profession. The Washington Post, in a recent article titled “Large law firms are failing women lawyers,” cites the NALP Foundation’s 2014 Update on Associate Attrition finding that women are twice as likely as men to leave law firms for reasons like work-life balance. The attrition of female attorneys from the workforce harms not only law firms, who lose valuable attorneys, but also their clients.
The NHWBA was established in 1998 to promote and support the advancement and interests of women in the legal community. The NHWBA provides support and networking to its members, which include both women and men, and calls attention to the challenges that female attorneys face.
Male and female attorneys should be treated equally and be free from harassment in all aspects of practice – from compensation, to work assignments, to partnership and management opportunities. Until the workplace can be a level playing field, blind to gender, there is a need for women’s bar associations.
Gretchen E. Pyles
Gretchen E. Pyles is the executive director of the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association.