My Shingle

And Where Were the Solo Women Lawyers? (probably too busy blogging, running businesses and practicing law to complain…)

by Carolyn Elefant on February 13, 2006 · 56 comments

in Celebrating Solos, Legal Profession Trends, Solo Practice Trends

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This article Women Aiming for Partnership Face Persistent Problems (NYLawyer 2/10/06) reported on a New York City Bar Association Symposium, attended by a mostly female crowd of 300 that addressed a persistent question:  “When will the legal profession see sex equality throughout its ranks?” According to the article, the Symposium apparently bemoaned what we’ve heard a million times – law firms’ stereotypical attitudes towards women, failure to accomodate family and the disparity between the percentage of women graduating  law school (52 percent) and the percentage currently partners at biglaw (17 percent).   Yet strikingly absent from the panel of speakers was a single representative from the group of female attorneys who are partners and who practice law on their own terms:  the solos! (Nor did a single solo participate in preparation of the report, Best Practices for Women Attorneys that was also discussed at the symposium)

So where were the solo female attorneys?

Were they too busy excelling on multiple fronts to complain about not making partner, like Saundra Gumerove, who runs a business law practice and a blog for parents of children with disabilities; or like Lisa Solomon, another multi-tasking women attorney with a law practice and a business on the side?  Perhaps they were too preoccupied with pioneering innovative, blogging strategies to market their practice and to show their expertise to sulk about being ignored by male attorneys – like the new crop of women-lawyer-solo bloggers Jennifer Sawday, Cameron Pickett, Leanna Hamill, Andrea Goldman and Jill Pugh. (updated 2/14/06). Or maybe like solo Janell Grenier, they’ve established themselves sufficiently with two substance-rich, gold standard blogs like this and this that the issues debated at the symposium just weren’t worth their time.

As for the burning question posed by the symposium:  “When will the legal profession see equality in its ranks?” my answer would be – today, if you know where to look for it (and the above paragraphs, I’d say, is a pretty good place to start).   The trouble is that at the so-called Committee on Women in the Profession ultimately defines success by stereotypical male standards, such as making partnership at a large law firm, ironically at a time when even men are beginning to question whether biglaw is all that it was cracked up to be.  And the Committee discounts the achievements of solo women lawyers by omitting women lawyers from its speakers’ panel and not discussing the achievements of women solos and small firm lawyers in its report.

If that’s the case, then the Committee on Women in the Profession is right about one thing:  equality is lacking in at least one place in the legal profession – and that is on the Committee on Women in the Profession itself.

Update (2/14/06) – I was reminded by her comment below that I’ve omitted from mention here Nicole Black, a solo, woman blogger at Sui Generis.  Her blog is terrific, by the way, a wealth of substance and analysis on New York law.  (I know that there are plenty of other women law bloggers (including one of law blogging/blawging’s pioneers), many of whom I met at Blogher last July; in this post, I was trying to recognize those women lawyers who’ve joined the ranks in the past six months or so and are also solo or small firm lawyers.  So if you fit this criteria, and I’ve missed you, give me a shout in the comments below.

  • http://nylawblog.typepad.com Nicole Black

    Another interesting and very relevant post. And what a great way to frame the issue! I completely agree that many people, not just women, are questioning whether partnership in a law firm, especially Big Law, is all that it’s cracked up to be. And, I agree that many women leave firms to seek flexibility and the ability to practice law on their own terms.
    It will be intersting to see what happens to law firms over the next 10 years, as more and more associates “drop out” of the rat race towrards partnership, thus reducing the number of associates that will ultimately be eligible to become partner.
    One thing that seems to be occurring is that firms are absorbing solos, including women, that have successfully developed their own practice outside of a firm environment.
    Perhaps women will become more evident in the partnerships ranks of law firms in the future on that basis, but on their own terms, since they’ll be negotiating from a position of power, from outside of the firm.
    But, then again, maybe women will be happy to stay where they are–on their own, in control of their own destiny.

  • http://nylawblog.typepad.com Nicole Black

    Another interesting and very relevant post. And what a great way to frame the issue! I completely agree that many people, not just women, are questioning whether partnership in a law firm, especially Big Law, is all that it’s cracked up to be. And, I agree that many women leave firms to seek flexibility and the ability to practice law on their own terms.
    It will be intersting to see what happens to law firms over the next 10 years, as more and more associates “drop out” of the rat race towrards partnership, thus reducing the number of associates that will ultimately be eligible to become partner.
    One thing that seems to be occurring is that firms are absorbing solos, including women, that have successfully developed their own practice outside of a firm environment.
    Perhaps women will become more evident in the partnerships ranks of law firms in the future on that basis, but on their own terms, since they’ll be negotiating from a position of power, from outside of the firm.
    But, then again, maybe women will be happy to stay where they are–on their own, in control of their own destiny.

  • http://maplestreet.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/02/my_shingle_and_.html MapleStreet

    My Shingle: And Where Were the Solo Women Lawyers? (probably too busy blogging, running businesses and practicing law to complain…)

    Link: My Shingle: And Where Were the Solo Women Lawyers? (probably too busy blogging, running businesses and practicing law to complain…). This situation is analogous to those people who have the time to be protesting some political issue. The doers

  • http://maplestreet.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/02/my_shingle_and_.html MapleStreet

    My Shingle: And Where Were the Solo Women Lawyers? (probably too busy blogging, running businesses and practicing law to complain…)

    Link: My Shingle: And Where Were the Solo Women Lawyers? (probably too busy blogging, running businesses and practicing law to complain…). This situation is analogous to those people who have the time to be protesting some political issue. The doers

  • http://nylawblog.typepad.com Nicole Black

    Thanks for adding my blog to this post and for the kind words as well.

  • http://nylawblog.typepad.com Nicole Black

    Thanks for adding my blog to this post and for the kind words as well.

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2006/02/q_when_will_the.html Inside Opinions: Legal Blogs

    Q: When will the legal profession see gender equality in its ranks?

    A: my answer would be — today, if you know where to look for it, writes Carolyn Elefant, adding later, … the Committee on Women in the Profession is right about one thing: equality is lacking in at least one

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2006/02/q_when_will_the.html Inside Opinions: Legal Blogs

    Q: When will the legal profession see gender equality in its ranks?

    A: my answer would be — today, if you know where to look for it, writes Carolyn Elefant, adding later, … the Committee on Women in the Profession is right about one thing: equality is lacking in at least one

  • http://www.vogelelaw.com Colette

    This is so true. As a not-so-long-ago “big law” lawyer, I now run my own practice in intellectual property law. I also blog at Stanford’s Center for Internet & Society (http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blogs/vogele) where I practiced last year as a fellow. Thanks to my experiences at Stanford, and the support of many of my peers, I’m now enjoying life as a solo. While there are times when I feel just as busy as when I was in “big law”, I am much happier all around and I’d say I’m making a better impact on the profession than ever before. (For instance, I can now make time to teach law classes, mentor law students and junior lawyers, write and speak on issues I care about.) The Committee on Women in the Profession’s failure to recognize important contributions to the profession by solos and others who define “success” not necessarily in traditional big law terms is classic old thinking. Thanks, Carolyn, for such a great perspective on this issue.

  • http://www.vogelelaw.com Colette

    This is so true. As a not-so-long-ago “big law” lawyer, I now run my own practice in intellectual property law. I also blog at Stanford’s Center for Internet & Society (http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blogs/vogele) where I practiced last year as a fellow. Thanks to my experiences at Stanford, and the support of many of my peers, I’m now enjoying life as a solo. While there are times when I feel just as busy as when I was in “big law”, I am much happier all around and I’d say I’m making a better impact on the profession than ever before. (For instance, I can now make time to teach law classes, mentor law students and junior lawyers, write and speak on issues I care about.) The Committee on Women in the Profession’s failure to recognize important contributions to the profession by solos and others who define “success” not necessarily in traditional big law terms is classic old thinking. Thanks, Carolyn, for such a great perspective on this issue.

  • http://www.blog.mckeelegal.com Sharmil McKee

    Your post was right on time. I have been looking for a list of other woman-lawyer-solo-bloggers but I was unsuccessful until now. Thanks for your insight.

  • http://www.blog.mckeelegal.com Sharmil McKee

    Your post was right on time. I have been looking for a list of other woman-lawyer-solo-bloggers but I was unsuccessful until now. Thanks for your insight.

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