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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 15, 201712:00 PM EST

Gender Bias In The Legal Profession: 'A Reality For Far Too Many'

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

From The Florida Bar Special Committee on Gender Bias, May 2017 report:

38%: The percentage of attorneys practicing in Florida who are women. In the U.S., 36 percent of attorneys are women. In 1970, women accounted for only 3 percent of the profession.

15%: Of Florida’s female attorneys are managing partners or partners/shareholders. That’s compared with 27 percent of the state’s male attorneys.

80%: The median compensation for female equity partners when compared to their male equity partners, according to a survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers.

89.7%: The percentage of median weekly earnings of full-time female attorneys in 2015 when compared with male attorneys. In 2005, it was 77.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From The Florida Bar’s 2016 Gender Equality in the Legal Profession survey:

47%: The percentage of female attorneys who said they believe they are not being compensated the same as their male counterparts for comparable work. Just 6 percent of male attorneys believe that to be true.

54%: Of female attorneys said they have to work harder than male lawyers to achieve the same results. Only 12 percent of male attorneys hold that view.

46%: Of female attorneys said they believe male lawyers attain partnership status faster than female lawyers. By comparison, 12 percent of male lawyers responded similarly.

37%: Of female attorneys said their pre-tax income derived from their practice was more than $100,000. By comparison, 55 percent of male attorneys said it was.

The Florida Bar is taking up the fight against gender bias.

Gender bias in the legal profession was confirmed nearly 30 years ago. And it was affirmed about three weeks ago.

Discrimination against women was the subject of a report issued in March 1990 by the state Supreme Court’s Gender Bias Study Commission that was the result of two years of hearings.

More recently, the results of a similar study with recommendations was delivered May 26 to The Florida Bar leadership.

The 1990 report concluded that gender bias, defined as discrimination based solely on one’s sex, was “a reality for far too many people involved in the legal system.”

Myriad issues were examined, including dissolution of marriage, custody and child support and criminal prosecution and penalties, but the report also specifically addressed gender bias within the legal profession.

On that aspect, it stated “gender bias permeates the legal profession,” that women were “not proportionately represented in law flrm partnerships, judgeships and tenured faculty positions.

The report went on to say: “The Commission found that bias unfairly restricts access to an array of professional opportunities, including those that generate fees.”

Fast-forward to three weeks ago, when The Florida Bar Board of Governors received the report of The Florida Bar Special Committee on Gender Bias.

The 17-member group was established in July by Bar President William Schifino Jr., with President-elect Michael Higer as its chair.

Schifino was inspired by the results of a survey conducted in 2015 by the Young Lawyers Division that collected responses from a random sample of female members of The Florida Bar.

Forty-three percent said they had experienced gender bias during their legal career.

A lack of advancement opportunities was reported by 32 percent of respondents and more than 25 percent said they had resigned from a position for that reason.

Twenty-one percent said they felt they were not paid as much as their male counterparts.

After nearly a year of study, the opinion rendered by the special committee is: “Gender bias is deeply embedded in our culture. Its impact has far reaching economic and social consequences and has continuously disadvantaged women in our profession.”

The report lays out a plan for The Florida Bar to work toward eliminating gender bias from the practice of law, including:

• Seeking better information regarding compensation and promotion practices, advancement, leadership and family leave statistics to establish baseline metrics.

• Recruiting women for leadership positions within The Florida Bar and encouraging local and voluntary Bar associations to do the same — and to more frequently spotlight successful women and organizations.

• Establishing a reporting mechanism for attorneys and for small and large law firms, with confidentiality protections for practitioners who are victims of gender bias-based misconduct as well as compiling data from submissions.

• Promoting gender bias toolkits to identify obstacles and determine best practices for fair and transparent compensation and promotion practices as well as for maternity and paternity leave.

• Creating and promoting a “Blue Ribbon Firm” designation to be awarded to law firms committed to gender diversity by setting and meeting goals and implementing best practices.

• Reviewing ethics rules and rules of professional responsibility to determine if additional rules or policies are needed.

• Studying activities of law schools and other state Bar associations designed to address gender bias to identify successful programs that could be implemented.

• Promoting the benefits of family and maternity leave.

• Working with leaders of small and large law firms to continue the conversation and study of eliminating gender bias, with a particular focus on issues impacted or influenced by law firm economics.

In addition, the report recommends:

• The Florida Bar and its sections should initiate continuing legal education courses that address gender bias topics such as the business case for gender inclusion, gender-neutral hiring and evaluation, conflict avoidance and resolution

• The Diversity and Inclusion Committee should create a subcommittee on women in the profession that would be responsible for overseeing implementation for the recommendations.

The Florida Bar News reported that when Higer delivered the findings to the board, he said the committee will continue its work under the leadership of President-elect-designate Michelle Suskauer.

“We’ve come a long way from when there were few, if any, women in our profession. We’ve come a long way from when there were few, if any, women on our bench. And we’ve come a long way from when there were few, if any, women leaders in our Bar.

“But we obviously have a long way to go,” Higer said.

He then set an example for fostering gender equality when he made committee appointments, including chairs and vice chairs, for his year as president of the Bar.

Of the 1,387 committee seats appointed by Higer, 46 percent are women. Of the 192 committee leadership positions for 2017-18, 51 percent are women.

Overall, of the 2,218 total committee seats, 47 percent will be held by women.

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