Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Revisiting the Revolution in the Gender Composition of the Legal Profession

Carroll Seron (Irvine) has posted Afterward: A Comparative Look at the Status of Women in the Legal Profession, 20 Ind. J.of Global Legal Studies(2013)

Today, young girls in many nations of the world may decide on a career in law in the same matter-of-fact manner as their grandmothers decided to become a teacher, social worker, nurse, or librarian. Sociologists Cynthia Fuchs Epstein and Abigail Kolker remind us that today we also take for granted that women may sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, serve as Secretary of State, or hold leadership positions in some of the most powerful law firms in the country — and even in the world. Rereading Epstein’s Women in Law, published in 1981, reminds us, however, that what we today take for granted in fact represents a revolution in the gender composition of law (and other professions) in what is actually a remarkably short span of time. During the first wave of the Women’s Movement, which coincided with the Progressive Era in the United States, a few pioneering women battled for the opportunity to be admitted to the practice of law; the challenges were many and the proportion of women who joined the ranks of legal practice remained miniscule through the early 1960s. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the second wave of the U.S. Women’s Movement in the 1960s that picture began to change. Today, the gender composition of legal education hovers at parity across the hierarchy of U.S. law schools; women represent about 32 percent of practitioners in the United States, though “the United States lags far behind many other countries.” The articles in this IJGLS issue both shed light on the feminization of legal practice from a global perspective and provide snapshots of how feminization unfolds in various nations, often highlighting the challenges that remain to be addressed.

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