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Julie Hilden on the Departure of Women From Large Law Firms

Findlaw columnist Julie Hilden has a column up today entitled Why are Women -- and Generation X and Y Attorneys Generally -- Leaving Large Law Firms? (3/7/07), which continues the discussion of this provocative cover story from California Lawyer on why women are choosing to leave firms. Hilden offers several stories about top credentialed women, including former United States Supreme Court clerks (male and female) who chose to leave their large law firms after starting families. And Hilden also makes clear that in many cases, money isn't a sufficient lure for women to remain at large firms. In many cases, "superstar" women are married to "superstar men" whom they've met in college or law school. In most cases, even with student loans, one large firm salary will suffice to support a family. 

Hilden offers a couple of solutions, some that I've not seen before. For example, she suggests moving to a salaried system or one with a lengthy partnership track to allow lawyers to "preserve any semblance of quality of life in their 30's." She also endorses job sharing and staffing cases with more lawyers. Though these solutions may cost more, in the long run, they may help guard against attrition.   

Hilden points out that there's a high cost in failing to accommodate smart lawyers who want work-life balance: Firms will lose talent. She writes:

In Washington, D.C., I've observed how the Justice Department's appellate divisions have their pick of the very best women lawyers, simply by dint of the more reasonable work hours and part-time alternatives they offer. That's great for the Justice Department, but law firms should be concerned about the cream-skimming that goes on. In addition, women should be concerned about effectively being limited to an option that while extremely interesting and important, is also dramatically lower-paying than a law firm job.

The question is whether large firms will begin to take this advice. With so many options available to women -- such as prestigious government work or the ability to start their own law practices -- they simply may decide that they no longer want to spend their time at large firms, just as they're doing now.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 7, 2007 at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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