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First Chairs at Trial More Women Need Seats at the Table

“This report and the research underlying it were inspired by our everyday experiences as trial lawyers. We have represented clients in lead roles in many different matters and in many federal and state court jurisdictions. Yet, far too often, when we enter a courtroom filled with lawyers on a range of cases, each of us is either the only woman lead counsel or, at best, one of only a few women taking the lead in court or in major parts of litigation. Women have been attending law school and entering the legal profession in substantial numbers for the past 30 years. When we began practicing law, we assumed, along with many others, that as the number of women lawyers increased, so too would the number of women in leadership roles. But women have not advanced into the highest levels of private practice or of corporate law departments at anywhere near the same rate as men. Today, for example, only 17% of equity partners in big firms and 22% of general counsel in the Fortune 500 are women.  Beyond some basic data about job categories at senior levels, the legal profession has almost no systematic data about men and women in their everyday practice, including whether and how they obtain the necessary skills and experience to advance into lead roles. The NAWL Annual Surveys have filled some data gaps by providing a longitudinal view of the retention and advancement of  women lawyers in big firm practice. But we are not aware of any study that has systematically examined, based on representative data, the specific roles that women and men play on client matters, such as whether women are equally likely as men to be lead trial lawyer or lead deal lawyer. This study is the first of its kind to provide an empirical snapshot of the participation of women and men as lead counsel and trial attorneys in civil and criminal litigation. In addition, the study examines various objective factors that may help explain why women occupy leadership positions in certain types of cases for certain types of clients. It is our hope that this study will lead to the development and imple mentation of specific policies and best practices to enhance the opportunities for women to take the lead in the courtroom and be involved in the critical phases of cases..”

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