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Why Are So Few Women Lawyers Solo?

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Since women lawyers pull their own weight in the genre of solo and small firm blogs (along with me, there are my colleagues and friends, Susan Cartier Liebel and Inspired Solo’s Sheryl Schelin, I was surprised to learn that Few Women Choose to Practice Solo (NLJ 9/13/07). A recent study released by NALP revealed that women comprise only 34 percent of solo practitioners, while 77 percent of lawyers working for public interest groups are women.

Why don’t more women choose solo practice? After all, you’d think that women looking for work life balance would find solo practice appealing, because when you work for yourself, you gain control over the hours you work and the hours you handle. My own belief is that women themselves are driving lawyers away from solo practice. As I posted here previously, when women demand equality in the profession, they’re usually referring to equality at big law firms. Women who start and head their own practices, no matter how prominent, simply don’t count. As a result, younger women don’t view solo practice as an option.

  • k

    I wonder if women aren’t more concerned about some of the incidental costs soloing presents, such as paying for one’s own health insurance. I seem to recall a study indicating that women are much more likely to be concerned about being underinsured than men are, and certainly women soloing out of a desire to achieve better work-life balance might also be concerned about not being able to provide adequate health care/life insurance/etc. for their children and spouses.
    It may be that there are solutions to this particular problem–for instance, group insurance amy be available through a professional association–but I am unaware of them.

  • The survey only looked at lawyers who had been admitted to practice after 2000. That’s not a representative slice. For one thing, these lawyers have only been in practice seven years. For another, has the US economy since 2000 created a less than favorable environment for solos?
    A survey of all women lawyers, or at least those admitted in the past 30 years, would provide a more accurate picture than the survey mentioned.

  • Carolyn,
    I was recently interviewed by Leigh Jones of the National Law Journal who will be writing a piece about this supposedly for this upcoming issue of the NLJ. There will be several female solos interviewed as well.
    Based upon my experiences teaching and consulting, generally it is based upon a lot of misinformation about solo practice, fears of not being successful balancing solo practice with other life desires and challenges and a lack of support and encouragement for this choice of practice from those who know and care for them and the professional community.
    As you know, it is my fervent ambition to dispell these myths once and for all. Along with others, like yourself,and technology which opens the lines of communication wider then ever before…hopefully this will happen.

  • Our county bar association (Multnomah Co., Oregon) does provide group health insurance to its members at reasonable rates, through two insurers, and without underwriting, and I expect that others do.

  • Although these statistics are on an overall basis, they are quite interesting.
    According to a study done by Experian, small businesses make up 99.7% of all U.S. businesses. Today’s small business owner is between 48-51 years old and is likely to have a college degree. They also tend to participate in physical activities, as well as being active travelers. Women start 1,600 businesses a day, according to Intuit Future of Small Business Report.

  • KT

    I think women often become government lawyers in order to acheive the balance. This provides job security, 40 hour work weeks, good health and retirement benefits, and peace of mind. Maybe women are more likely than men to take a pay cut to have the benefits of working for the federal government?

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