Obstacles to Opportunities: Celebrating Women in Law

March 8, 2024
Erika Holter

Article written by Erika Holter

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is timely to acknowledge report findings from the National Association for Law Placement (NAPL) released earlier this year that disclose that women now make up the majority of law firm associates for the first time in history. While the margin is a slim one (50.31% female law associates), it is well worth celebrating nonetheless. It is especially monumental when you consider that only 30 years ago, female representation among law associates was much lower at 38%. As NAPL’s Executive Director, Nikia L. Gray states, “Real change is slow, hard, and imperceptible, but it does happen.”

Professional women standing in a line showcasing diversity and inclusion in the office

154 Years of Change

It’s been a long journey indeed, since the first woman graduated from law school in the United States in 1870 (on Canadian soil, the honour went to Clara Brett Martin in 1897). Women in law have had to navigate some serious challenges to carve out their place in the field. And thankfully they have! Between pushing for equal opportunities to leading by example to supporting and mentoring the next generation of lawyers, females in the legal industry have helped to create a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable profession for future generations.

There is Still Gender Equality Work to be Done

While this milestone is cause for celebration, it also serves as a reminder of the work that still lies ahead. While progress has been made, gender-based issues still persist in the legal profession. Some of the key challenges include:

A Lack of Women in Partner Roles

While Shulman & Partners is proud to have Diana Isaac as one of our incredible partners, overall women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions within law firms. Despite making up a significant portion of law school graduates and entry-level positions, it is shown that women are less likely to achieve partnership roles or hold positions of senior leadership.

Female leader talking to happy diverse employee group

The Wage Gap

Wage disparities based on gender continue to exist in the legal profession. Studies have shown that female lawyers earn less than their male counterparts, even when accounting for factors such as experience, practice area, and billable hours. This gender pay gap undermines efforts to achieve true equality and needs to be addressed.

Work-Life Balance Challenges

Balancing professional responsibilities with family and caregiving duties remains a significant challenge for many female lawyers. The demanding nature of legal practice, including long hours, unpredictable schedules, and high-pressure environments, can disproportionately impact women, leading to burnout and career interruptions.

A Lack of Representation in Certain Practice Areas

Women are underrepresented in certain practice areas within the legal profession, such as litigation, corporate law, and certain specialized fields. This lack of representation can limit career options for women and perpetuate gender stereotypes about suitable practice areas for female lawyers.

Female judge striking gavel

Harassment and Gender-Based Discrimination

Instances of harassment, discrimination, and gender-based misconduct persist in legal workplaces, creating hostile environments and undermining women's professional experiences. Addressing these issues requires proactive measures to foster inclusive and respectful workplace cultures and hold perpetrators accountable.

Retention and Advancement Challenges

Women sometimes have trouble getting the support they need to move up in their careers. They may encounter barriers to retention and advancement within law firms, including limited access to mentorship opportunities, professional development resources, and meaningful feedback. Addressing these challenges is essential to ensuring that talented female lawyers have the support they need to thrive and advance in their careers.

Celebrating Women in Law: Making Progress Together

International Women’s Day serves as a powerful reminder of the major strides women have made in the legal profession and the ongoing work needed to achieve true gender equality. At Shulman & Partners, we are proud to celebrate the remarkable women who are integral to our firm's success. A quick peak at our team page on our website reinforces that we are a firm committed to gender equality in the workplace and shows that we recognize the tremendous value that each of our female team members bring to our firm.

Shulman & Partners Associate Lawyers, Sofia Ashraf and Jessica Gutta

On this special day and every day beyond, we celebrate your achievements, acknowledge your invaluable contributions, and stand alongside you in our shared mission to create a more inclusive and equitable legal profession. Thank you for all that you do, today and every day.

Shulman & Partners Associate Lawyer, Sabrina Mangiapane with Partner Diana Isaac