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Why Women Leave the Law




When Bass Foundation Founder & CEO Hilarie Bass was president of the American Bar Association, she created a research project to clarify why experienced women lawyers were leaving the law profession mid-career. During her term as ABA president, she spearheaded multiple survey and research approaches to provide the data that will help us better understand why women leave. 

For more than three decades, women have comprised nearly half of all law students and incoming associates at law firms. Yet, during the last 30 years, little progress has been made in diminishing the lack of gender parity in law firms' senior ranks. In fact, by the time they reach age 50, only around 27% of women are still in the law profession.

Law firms are losing out on a significant portion of the best talent they recruit and invest in. An exceedingly high number of women choose to leave the practice of law long before their value to the profession has been fully utilized. 

Because the number of women qualified for and entering the profession is now the same as the number of men, law firms help us to better understand the issues that many industries face as they strive to grow the number of women in senior leadership positions.

After 20 years in the profession, having to prove their commitment and capabilities every day is just not acceptable to women in law.
— Hilarie Bass

What are the reasons women leave law? 

Some of the recurring complaints women expressed to explain their decisions to depart the legal practice include:

  •  An ongoing and very significant compensation gap between male and female lawyers

  • The negative impact of unconscious bias on performance evaluations, elevation decisions and compensation determinations for female lawyers

  • The assumption law firms make that a female lawyer’s commitment to work diminishes as soon as she becomes a parent

  • Success fatigue – the view of many women that they must continue to prove themselves as worthy, even after years of practice

  • Ongoing sexual harassment and bullying

  • The perception that clients are handed down from one male attorney to another, with women often invited to participate in client pitches as a “token” female, but not given the opportunity to work for the client