The legal sector still has a lot of progress to make toward equality. Hilarie Bass, American Bar Association (ABA) president and co-president of Greenberg Traurig Law Firm, weighs in on where these issues with inequality stem from and what attorneys can do to help.

Challenges women face

“The glass ceiling continues to exist; it’s just been moved up,” Bass says. She has been studying the trend of women lawyers leaving their positions between the ages of 40 and 50. Her research shows that women feel their firms are inhospitable, and ultimately, they get fed up with working toward a goal that they feel has had little pay off for them.

The glass ceiling continues to exist; it’s just been moved up.

While there are more females currently attending law schools than men in the United States, and women are able to rise to partnership positions, they still appear to be leaving the field. Bass attributes this to implicit bias, success fatigue — “the perception that women have to work just a little harder than their male colleagues to get recognition for their achievements” — sexual harassment and the feeling of having hit a glass ceiling.

She continues, “but when it comes to becoming an equity partner or managing partner — the highest levels of law firm leadership — it’s still much less common for women to reach that level of success.”

Reversing the exodus

It may sound basic, but Bass recommends that attorneys work to become the best lawyer they can be and hone their skill set. “I tell men and women young lawyers the same advice, which is: become really good at your craft, and then think about what you would like your career to look like,” she says. “Because each of us has so many opportunities to take advantage of new and different paths, but it doesn’t always happen just sitting behind your desk.”

Attorneys can become involved in bar associations, seek out leadership positions or do pro bono service. The glass ceiling can be destroyed entirely, and it begins with bringing awareness to the problems within the industry.

“Each of us has so many opportunities to take advantage of new and different paths, but it doesn’t always happen just sitting behind your desk.”