TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Black Female Lawyers Face The Double Jeopardy Of Racial And Gender Stereotyping

American Lawyer LogoAmerican Lawyer, Black Female Lawyers Face the Double Jeopardy of Racial and Gender Stereotyping:

As tough as it is for black lawyers to rise to the top in law firms, it’s even tougher for black female attorneys.

Though black women have outnumbered black men in law schools for about two decades, they constitute only a fraction of the already tiny number of black partners at major firms: Less than two percent of Big Law partners are black, and 0.56 percent are female and black. Black women are the minority within the minority.

Even the best-credentialed black female lawyers seem to fare poorly. According to a new Harvard Law School study of black alumni, male black alums were more likely to be partners than their female counterparts (of those in private practice, 47.4 percent men versus 28.6 women were partners), and far more likely to have leadership roles (92 percent of all black alums who’ve served as managing partners or department heads have been men).

If these high-credentialed women aren’t making it, what does it mean for African-American female lawyers overall?

“Black women have all the problems of black men plus what white women face,” says Harvard Law School professor David Wilkins, the author of the study about black alums. “What’s not being heard is the intersection of race and gender.” Carolyn Edgar, a 1993 graduate of Harvard Law School, echoes that point. “We are still black and we are still women, and those two forces operate on us differently.” Black men, she adds, “will get sponsorship, mentorship,” provided they’ve passed muster with firm management: “If they’re comfortable enough to keep him, he’s likely to succeed.”

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