For female lawyers, including Law School alumnae, concerns about work-life balance may push them toward more flexible careers than their male peers, often in public service rather than corporate sectors.
According to a report released Thursday by the Association for Legal Career Professionals, while only five percent of all lawyers work part-time, 90 percent of those who do are women. Female students at the Law School said they are concerned about the tensions between advancing their careers and starting families, and last week, the Law School hosted a conference to discuss alternative work options.
A report by the Yale Law Career Development Office indicated that historically, more male law students go on to work in private firms, academia and business, while more female students gravitate to public service. Between 1996 and 2000, 37 percent of female graduates went to work for nonprofits compared to 22 percent of male graduates. The number of males in business was twice that of females. These discrepancies reflected a national trend, according to data collected by NALP, although Yale alumni of both genders are generally more likely to go into public service than the national average.
The NALP report suggested that while 96 percent of firms offer a part-time option for women, recent graduates may fear that working part-time would affect their long-term career prospects.
“A lot of time, they can’t work part time right away in a firm because it’s for experienced attorneys only,” Judith Collins, director of research at NALP, said. “Most first time jobs are full-time.”
At last week’s conference, Deborah Epstein Henry ’89, founder of Flex-Time Lawyers, said while women comprise 40 to 50 percent of graduating classes nationwide, they only make up 17 percent of law firm partners.
A 2001 study by the American Bar Association reported that 70 percent of lawyers with children said they had difficulty balancing work and family obligations. But Henry said the conflict between work commitments and one’s personal life often extends beyond the issue of starting a family.
“The reality is, work-life balance is an issue that is occupying everyone’s mind,” Henry said. “Often, it’s more so an issue with lawyers who are high-credentialed and talented because there is pressure on them to perform.”
Kristina Scurry LAW ’08, who helped organize the Yale Law Women’s ranking of the top 10 family-friendly law firms, said in the short term, most students of both genders join private firms, but the career paths of women and men may diverge further down the road.
“Women may have different long-term career ambitions than their male counterparts,” she said.
Yale Law Women president Monica Bell LAW ’08 said academia in particular is a difficult profession for female lawyers to enter. At the Law School, roughly a quarter of the Law School faculty are female, and three of those women were hired just last year.
“[Law School Dean Harold] Koh has expressed a commitment to lowering the average age of our faculty, which he believes will bring about more diversity of all kinds, [including] gender,” she said. “The merits and principles behind his approach are debatable, but in terms of women hires, it has proven useful thus far.”
But Koh said he doesn’t see any difference in career aspirations between the two sexes.
“We’re looking at [such] studies very closely to see whether there are gender differences, but I’m not sure if any strong patterns have emerged,” he said. “We’re very attuned to different tracks developing, and are particularly concerned by the [idea of] a glass ceiling.”
In July, the New York Times reported that professional law firms are stepping up efforts to recruit more females.