Obstacles faced by young female attorneys

By: Leslie R. Pollack and Christina M. Himmel

This is 2016. It is a year where we could witness Hillary Clinton become the first female President of the United States. It is a time where women have ostensibly shattered whatever glass ceiling may have existed in the past. Yet, despite the perceived progress for women, there are still obstacles to overcome, including work-life balance.

In honor of International Women’s Day, celebrated annually in March, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on issues that impact working women—and in particular, young women attorneys.

For young women lawyers, navigating through the ever-changing legal world can be challenging for a multitude of reasons. Inequality in pay, respect, and advancement are among the issues confronting young women lawyers. According to a recent survey conducted by the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar, 43% of young women attorneys have experienced gender bias. One of the survey participants said that she left a job because she “was told by the managing partner that [she] did not have to worry about making money and moving ahead because [she] would get married one day and will not have to worry about living expenses.” More than a quarter of those surveyed reported that they resigned from a position due to lack of advancement, employer insensitivity, and lack of work-life balance.

 Woman working

The results of the Florida Bar survey are not unique. A 2010 study conducted by the New Hampshire Bar Association found similar results. Generally, “[w]omen at law firms earn less than their male colleagues and many female attorneys encounter inappropriate behavior at work.” Upon learning of the survey’s findings, the President of the Florida Bar, Ray Abadin remarked, “There is no doubt that this presents a very sobering picture for our profession. . . It is not appropriate for any lawyer, regardless of gender, to be made to feel diminished or disrespected by a colleague, a client or a member of the court.”

Among the chief concerns facing young women lawyers is a lack of work-life balance. According to the results of the survey, “[f]orty-two percent cited balancing family and work as one of their top three challenges or concerns.” Sixteen percent of the young women lawyers participating in the survey reported leaving an employer for lack of work-life balance.

So, what exactly does work-life balance entail? Although difficult to delineate precise contours, work-life balance generally refers to one’s ability to weave between personal and professional lives—assuming a separation of the two exists.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for a young woman lawyer—and young lawyers generally—is the expectation of being accessible and “on call” 24/7. In today’s technology-centric world, nearly every lawyer receives work emails to her smart phone. However, this perceived obstacle can actually be quite liberating. This technology gives you the freedom and flexibility to work remotely from anywhere in the world, provided you properly manage your workload. This increased flexibility allows young lawyers to attain work-life balance by maintaining a full-time schedule but on their own terms. One of the great advantages of being a young lawyer in 2016 is knowing that you can leave the office for the day, go meet friends or family for dinner, and then finish a pending assignment from the comfort of your own home. While 24/7 access may seem overwhelming, here are a few tips to help keep everything in perspective and help maintain that sought after work-life balance:

  1. Establish boundaries and formulate a plan—For example, when you get home from work you may decide not to check your emails for the first hour so you can spend uninterrupted quality time with your family.
  2. Stick to your plan—don’t get discouraged, work-life balance is a learning process.
  3. Take time for yourself—whether you like exercising or traveling, be sure you don’t forget to pursue your interests outside the practice of law.
  4. Create your own definition of success—success looks different to everyone so it is important to establish your own personal career goals and pursue them.