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Why gender diversity in the legal profession matters

Lee Holcomb 03 / 08 / 21

International Women’s Day is a global day to take stock of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women while also calling for action to boost gender diversity and equity in the legal profession.

Female representation in legal 

International Women’s Day is an opportune moment to remember why gender diversity and equity in the legal profession really matters.

In any professional setting, gender diversity expands the pool of expertise and backgrounds to solve particular legal problems. In the legal profession in particular, diversity also serves the higher purpose of giving credibility to the perception that the legal system is fair and equitable – and that everyone’s voices are represented and heard within that system.

The gender imbalance in legal

The gender disparity is more pronounced in the legal field than in other industries, and the upward climb is even steeper for women of color,

While the legal industry continues to struggle to meet this ideal, there have been inroads to give women lawyers more career choices within the industry.

U.S. Census figures show that just 38% of lawyers are women.

Within law firms, women’s representation diminishes the higher you go in the hierarchy. Women make up just 19% of equity partners and 25% of executive-leadership positions, according to ABA research.

Often, female lawyers feel forced to make significant tradeoffs between career advancement and their personal lives.

When women lawyers are forced to choose, they may leave law firms or in-house legal teams completely, exacerbating the lack of gender diversity in the profession.

The rise of "New Law"

My own career is an example of this trend. I was a partner at a law firm, but made a difficult decision to resign my position in order to have a second child and allow my then-husband to pursue a career overseas with the State Department. If that had happened now, I would have had options that weren’t available to me back in 2006.

While in India, I found a job in alternative legal services, which at the time was an emerging and innovative industry. I was part-time and not making much money. However, the coming of age of technology and the ability to work remotely combined with the unbundling of legal services allowed me to get my foot in the door very early and gave me a whole different career path.

The industry seemed to be calling for women lawyers who didn’t want a full-time career and didn’t need the stability of a law firm position. The flexibility, fewer hours, and remote work made alternative legal services a better pitch and sale for female lawyers with caregiving responsibilities outside of work – for example, those with a special needs child, health issues, or an elderly parent.

The trend gave women the satisfaction of being able to have meaningful work in the legal field while still taking care of personal priorities. The legal industry also has benefitted from the trend because skilled lawyers who had left high-level firms were still in the industry. We were no longer losing them completely.

In this way, the rise of “new law” companies marked a milestone in the struggle against gender bias in the law profession by providing an alternative career path for women lawyers and others whose life circumstances made a 50-to-60-hour week at a traditional law firm impractical.

Diversity is in our DNA

Legility is one such new law company. We are a leading technology provider designed to quickly adapt to clients’ needs and mobilize a diverse team of lawyers to execute customized high-level legal projects. We provide eDiscovery, technology-enabled legal services, consulting, managed services, and flexible talent to law firms and corporations.

Our company was founded with a mission of building a workplace that controlled for gender pay inequities and providing growth opportunities for women in the legal industry. In fact, “Diversity is in our DNA” is one of our core values.

Our expert, on-demand legal talent model transformed how legal services are delivered by providing quality legal work on a per-project basis. The model gives our clients the flexibility of bringing on more lawyers or scaling back depending on workloads, which enables tactical, cost-effective legal services.

The model also allows our lawyers to take on the amount of work that they want, providing the flexibility to strike a balance between work and home life. The per-project system has been particularly beneficial to lawyers who may have temporarily scaled back their legal practice to take care of family or personal needs. The lawyers can still remain in the legal field and offer their expertise on important legal cases but work fewer hours than they normally would at a traditional law firm.

Gender diversity is essential

As we observe International Women’s Day, it’s important to remind ourselves of why gender diversity in the legal profession is essential to meeting the needs of our clients. More importantly, diversity in sex, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and background in the legal profession signals to society that their legal system is fair and equitable and that their voices are represented and heard.

Legility is a legal services company providing data hosting and management, technology-enabled services, consulting, flexible legal talent, and managed review services to in-house law departments and law firms. Legility is not, and none of its affiliates are, a law firm and does not provide legal advice as part of its services and nothing contained herein should be construed as such.

About the author

Lee Holcomb
Lee Holcomb

Lee is the Director of Operations for Enterprise Legal Solutions with Legility. She started her legal career in 1998 in Tennessee with Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan. After the birth of her first child, she began practicing yoga to help her stay fit and manage the stress of balancing work and family responsibilities. In 2006, her husband took an overseas position with the U.S. State Department. Lee was at first reluctant to leave her firm, but her desire to have a second child led her to take a giant step. On December 23, 2006, with two small children, she boarded a plane to Poland. Shortly after she arrived in Warsaw, Lee began planning her return to the legal workforce. This would ultimately take her to India, where she essentially started over in a part-time position with an international legal outsourcing provider. In addition to finding a new career, her time overseas allowed her to deepen her yoga practice. In 2011, she received her 200-hour certification to teach yoga from the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Shala in Chennai India. In 2017, she finished her first book, Lifestyle Lawyer. Sometimes, we all need to go against the grain and do things that make us happier, more well-rounded, and engaged. Her goal is to share this passion for wellness, health, yoga, and meditation with others.

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