Paul L. Caron
Dean


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Why Are Seemingly Satisfied Female Lawyers Running For The Exits?

Joni Hersch (Vanderbilt) & Erin E. Meyers (Vanderbilt), Why Are Seemingly Satisfied Female Lawyers Running for the Exits? Resolving the Paradox Using National Data, 102 Marq. L. Rev. 915 (2019):

Despite the fact that women are leaving the practice of law at alarmingly high rates, most previous research finds no evidence of gender differences in job satisfaction among lawyers. This Article uses nationally representative data from the 2015 National Survey of College Graduates to examine gender differences in lawyers' job satisfaction, and finds that any apparent similarity of job satisfaction between genders likely arises from dissatisfied female JDs sorting out of the legal profession at higher rates than their male counterparts, leaving behind the most satisfied women.

Lawyer Satisfaction

This Article also provides a detailed examination of the specific working conditions that are associated with dissatisfaction of female lawyers before this sorting occurs, and compares job satisfaction of lawyers to that of other professions. The resulting analysis shows that recently graduated female lawyers have lower average satisfaction with their salaries relative to male lawyers, but that this result is likely due to differences in employer types. The data further indicates that a male-female satisfaction gap exists only among JDs, and not among those with bachelor's as the highest degree or other professional or graduate degrees. This finding suggests that comparing lawyers to those in other professions could help to pinpoint unique characteristics of the legal profession that create dissatisfaction among women at the outset of their careers and causes them to exit the profession.

Lawyer Satisfaction2

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2019/08/why-are-seemingly-satisfied-female-lawyers-running-for-the-exits.html

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Comments

Whatever it takes to make that “wage gap” hoax stick, amirite? Genius.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 6, 2019 3:16:18 PM

Perhaps because the model of "women are the same as men” has never really worked?

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Aug 7, 2019 4:08:38 AM

Absurd drivel this is, about which nobody with a brain in or out of the legal profession gives any F's about:

"This Article also provides a detailed examination of the specific working conditions that are associated with dissatisfaction of female lawyers before this sorting occurs, and compares job satisfaction of lawyers to that of other professions. The resulting analysis shows that recently graduated female lawyers have lower average satisfaction with their salaries relative to male lawyers, but that this result is likely due to differences in employer types. The data further indicates that a male-female satisfaction gap exists only among JDs, and not among those with bachelor's as the highest degree or other professional or graduate degrees. This finding suggests that comparing lawyers to those in other professions could help to pinpoint unique characteristics of the legal profession that create dissatisfaction among women at the outset of their careers and causes them to exit the profession."

Posted by: Diogenes | Aug 7, 2019 5:33:59 AM

The reason is much the same as what I saw when I worked on the nursing staff at a major children's hospital. The nursing staff was some 98% female, so much so that in 26 months there, there was only ten minutes when another male, a float, was on the same unit where I was working.

Even more telling, married or single, almost all were young and had yet to have children. They'd sought out the job and dealt with its hassles because they wanted to be caring for children. And when they had children and could afford to do so, they dropped out of nursing.

Compare that to law, where there's almost no opportunity to work with children. A certain percentage of women in law don't mind that and stay in. Others hate that and drop out to raise kids, perhaps dabbling in law on the side.

I'm often tempted to ask those who claim this isn't true if they deny evolution. Because if you don't believe that women are heavily tilted toward mothering, then you don't believe in either the 'chance substituting for design' or the more God-centered beliefs of intelligent design. Both mean that women are designed to play mothering roles and men fathering roles.

In either case, whether God or evolution makes sure the human species endures, the result is the same. Our current obsession with career achievement is out of touch with our biological realities. That is particularly true for women, since their role in the rearing of children is more critical.

--Michael W. Perry, medical writer

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Aug 7, 2019 6:44:09 AM

I never cease to be amazed when academics ignore the oblivious. It is possible having babies has something to do with this?

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Aug 7, 2019 8:40:14 AM

This is a fascinating and meaningful study subject, but in my view the authors did not do it justice.

First, although they state a (credible) hypothesis – that the non-recent female graduates who have left the legal profession are those who experienced the most dissatisfaction while working as lawyers – the data they examine do nothing to test that hypothesis against alternatives. In fact, they do not look at any data whatsoever relating to law graduates who have left the legal profession. They try to draw inferences about the population that has left legal practice by looking at the population that has continued in the practice of law. If they had done their own study instead of trying to repurpose other researchers’ data, they presumably would have looked directly at the phenomenon in which they were interested (lawyers leaving the law) rather than at the opposite group (lawyers staying in the law).

Second, although certainly a plausible explanation, their conclusion that dissatisfied women leave the legal profession at a higher rate than men is hardly the only explanation for data showing that women who have worked in the law for longer are more likely to be satisfied with their careers. Other plausible explanations that they do not entertain (much less test) include: Dissatisfied early-career women do a better job than dissatisfied early-career men in making choices that improve their job satisfaction within a legal career; Working in the beginning stages of a legal career is inherently more satisfying to men than women, but working in the later stages of a legal career is equally or more satisfying to women than it is to men; Dissatisfied lawyers departing from the law are replaced by men and women who started non-legal careers after law school, and among those turning back to legal careers, women have higher rates of job satisfaction.

Third, they do not address an obvious criticism of their suggested “self-selection out” hypothesis. The hypothesis only works if one assumes that dissatisfied women “sort” out of the legal profession at a higher rate than dissatisfied men. If dissatisfied lawyers of both genders were leaving at the same rate, then, even though the data show that more female lawyers than male lawyers are dissatisfied early in their careers, the sorting effect would only serve to narrow the dissatisfaction gap. But the data show that the gap does not just narrow; it disappears entirely. It is unclear how the authors’ hypothesis can provide a full explanation of what they are seeing in the data.

Finally, the authors do not comment at all on what I saw as the most intriguing aspect of the data with which they were working. As shown in Table 2 on page 931 of the study, after adjusting for other factors affecting job satisfaction, there is a significant difference (19 percentage points) between the satisfaction levels of recently graduated male and female lawyers. As shown in Table 3 on page 933, however, after making the same adjustments, there is no statistically significant gender difference between the satisfaction levels of the same recently graduated lawyers on 8 out of the 9 specific aspects of job satisfaction that were surveyed (opportunities for advancement, benefits, independence, location, level of responsibility, salary, security, or contribution to society). The only significant difference observed was in intellectual challenge of the work, and in that aspect the women were more satisfied than the men by 16 percentage points. So why is it that early career male lawyers report more overall job satisfaction than early career female lawyers, but when the two groups are asked about specific aspects of the job, their satisfaction levels are indistinguishable (or higher for the women)? Did the researchers miss some as-yet-unidentified aspect that is highly satisfactory to men and/or dissatisfactory to women? Do men and women assign different weights in their overall job satisfaction to particular job aspects (for instance, might the men care more about intellectual challenge, independence, and level of responsibility – criteria as to which both groups expressed relatively high satisfaction – while the women care more about opportunities for advancement, salary, and benefits – criteria as to which both groups expressed relatively lower levels of satisfaction)? Or are men more likely than women to report overall satisfaction when some but not all aspects of their jobs are satisfactory? If I were doing research in this area, I would be very interested in digging into these data and questions.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 7, 2019 9:18:48 AM

Thanks so much @Michael W. Perry. Of course I had missed the fact that law provides insufficient child care opportunities. Now I understand why the young women lawyers were more dissatisfied with their careers even though they and the young male lawyers were equally satisfied about the responsibilities they were given, salary, opportunities for advancement, etc. And your keen insight also explains why the older women lawyers were equally as satisfied as the older men – once they had their kids, child care opportunities abounded in the 6-8 hours they got to spend at home every night, so all was sunshine and joy. OMG THIS MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE than looking at what was actually happening at work to figure out why lawyers were happy or unhappy with their jobs.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 7, 2019 12:59:56 PM

So, women in the law are the same as women across all business. More women than men opt out to start a family; more women than men opt for shorter hours, more women than men opt for jobs that don't require getting dirty and sweaty, more women than men opt for jobs that do not require a lot of overtime, more women than men opt for jobs where there is less competitiveness.

In other words, men and women, left to their own choices, make different choices. How many times do we have to have studies tell us water is wet.

Posted by: GlobalTrvlr | Aug 9, 2019 1:52:08 PM

As a young lawyer long, long ago, I found everything fascinating, even the dog work the newbies always inherited. That fascination never subsided. Even now, I love reading the SCOTUS opinions ... and marveling at the inconsistencies from actual legal reasoning.

Posted by: Jimbrock | Aug 9, 2019 2:08:17 PM

Common sense tells us so much if we would only listen.

Posted by: Jerry Jay Carroll | Aug 9, 2019 2:27:25 PM

Thank you, Dale, for pointing us in the right direction. And thanks also to Matt, for pointing out that the researchers were studying the women who stayed, but drawing conclusions about those who left.

Here is a really simple description of what happens to young lawyers, male and female. Nearly all, of either sex, are terribly dissatisfied. Some find an easy way, and traditional, to get out: they meet a man who makes more money than they do (“Mr. Big”), and leave the legal profession for an older profession. Or, more kindly, to have that man’s babies.

We could test this hypothesis easily if we could track who leaves. Here are some predictions from the hypothesis, which would allow some testing based on which women remain:

Criminal lawyers, prosecution or defense, will rarely meet Mr. Big, so male-female differences in retention should be small.

Personal injury lawyers will meet Mr. Big about as often as do women in the general population, so differences in retention should be larger than in criminal law.

Insurance defense lawyers will sometimes meet Mr. Big as the decisionmaker of the defendant. Differences should be larger than in personal injury.

Biglaw associates often meet Mr. Big. Only Mr. Big and his colleague Ms. Big, also working for Bank, are able to afford the fees of Biglaw. So retention differences between male and female lawyers should be highest among Biglaw associates.

Here is something harder to test, but by no means impossible: track the graduating class of a large law school. Poll the male members of the class on the good looks of the female members. Wait five years, and measure correlation between high looks rating and low retention.

Brickbats may be sent to the dean of my law school, or to the late Stephen Jay Gould, who taught me to be suspicious of correlation.

Posted by: Thomas Paine | Aug 9, 2019 3:13:05 PM

Pretty sure it must be men's fault - whatever the reason.

Posted by: Tom | Aug 9, 2019 3:34:40 PM

It's an easier problem than they're making it appear to be.

Women, on average, are shorter than men. Law firm libraries are of a fairly standardized height. That height puts the top shelf out of comfortable reach of more women lawyers than men lawyers, because of the height differential.

Thus, more women end up frustrated in their legal career than do men.

Posted by: bobby b | Aug 9, 2019 3:56:37 PM

Mr. Paine, it’s more nuanced than that. My daughter is partner-track at a Big-Law firm. She is also pregnant. The firm’s benefits are generous. She gets six-months maternity leave. She and her husband, who is also a lawyer, can afford to hire nannies and whatnot. (My wife and I plan on becoming full-time caregivers for a while.) Because she works in high-stakes ligation, she enjoys her work and plans on going back and becoming a partner. But I wonder. My daughter is facing at least one million years of primate evolution headwinds. Men and women are different. No amount of political correctness can change that.

It would be interesting to drill down in this study to find out how many women who stayed don’t have children.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Aug 10, 2019 7:49:15 AM

I'm pretty sure that the majority of law students now are female. I wonder what effect their comparatively higher drop out of the profession rate will have on the number of lawyers around.

Posted by: brad | Aug 10, 2019 8:41:59 PM