What’s most surprising about our latest study of the gender disparity among lawyers who argue in federal appellate courts is that there are no surprises. Even though women are entering U.S. law schools in larger numbers than men, women lawyers are still underrepresented in courtrooms across the United States. On the bright side, studies like this make it possible to measure and create change.
For three decades, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession has conducted research to evaluate and advocate for the advancement of women in the legal profession. In 2015, using data from the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, the Commission’s First Chairs study found that men outnumbered women as lead counsel in court proceedings by a factor of three to one.
Until now, though, little published work has examined whether a gender disparity exists among those who argue before federal appellate courts in the U.S.
In “How Unappealing: An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap Among Appellate Attorneys,” the number of men and women who argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in two years a decade apart was examined. The study and report were co-authored by Judge Amy St. Eve of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and Jamie Luguri, an associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson. We had hoped to see more progress in the number of women lawyers taking on lead roles since the 2015 study. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Among the findings of the study:
If the current rate of change remains constant, it will be another four decades—the year 2059—before half of attorneys arguing cases before the court are women. That is not acceptable. And fixing this problem requires action by law schools, legal employers of all kinds, clients and the courts:
Despite a strong pipeline of talented women lawyers, the legal profession’s gender gap has barely improved over the last decade. Law schools, firms, corporate and nonprofit clients, government agencies and courts all have a role to play in fixing this problem to ensure the next decade brings more progress than the last.
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