Female Lawyers Off-Ramping

I've written before about professional women off-ramping from the working world. Now comes this survey of Massachusetts lawyers that shows a significantly higher rate of attrition for female associates in private practice than their male counterparts:

Of the 1,000 Massachusetts lawyers who provided data for the report, 31 percent of female associates had left private practice entirely, compared with 18 percent of male associates. The gap widens among associates with children, to 35 percent and 15 percent, respectively -- reflecting the cultural reality that women remain the primary care givers of children and are therefore more likely to leave their firms for family reasons.

. . .

The report, "Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership," which was produced by the MIT Workplace Center in conjunction with several of the state's major bar associations, is rife with devastating commentaries on law firm life, including one female lawyer's remark that "I would not encourage my daughters to enter the legal profession."

. . .

Of women who jump off partnership track, slightly more than half move to legal positions at nonprofit groups, government agencies, or corporations, where their schedules are often less grueling, according to the report. But 46 percent leave the law altogether, compared with less than a third of men who leave the partnership track.

. . .

Practicing law also seems to force women to choose between working and having a family , the report said ; senior male lawyers are more likely than their female peers to be married or living with partners (99 percent vs. 84 percent, respectively) or to have children (80 percent vs. 68 percent).

Two other local studies in the past decade reached similar conclusions. In 1999, a Boston Bar Association report concluded: "We are in danger of seeing law firms evolve into institutions where only those who have no family responsibilities -- or, worse, are willing to abandon those responsibilities -- can thrive." In 2000, the Women's Bar Association released a report that found workplace flexibility was critical to women's success, but often elusive.

This survey doesn't tells us anything we didn't already know. What's remains puzzling to me is the head-scratching among big law firms about why so many women leave, or what to do about it. This isn't terribly complicated.

I'll also posit that men are just as miserable as women at BigLaw but find it harder to leave for "lifestyle" jobs.

My previous thoughts on associates fleeing big law firms are here and here, and about professional women off-ramping here.