The number of male attorneys arguing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit continues to greatly surpass women, according to a study published by the American Bar Association this week.
The study’s authors, Seventh Circuit Judge Amy J. St. Eve and Munger, Tolles & Olson associate Jamie Luguri, found that women represented 24% of attorneys who argued before the Chicago, Illinois-based federal appeals court in 2009. In 2019, the percentage rose only slightly to 28%.
“If the rate of change remains constant, it will be another four decades before half of all attorneys arguing before the court are women,” the authors wrote.
Despite women and men entering the legal profession in equal numbers, the gender gap among arguing attorneys has been widely reported across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
But St. Eve and Luguri looked at a number of other factors that influence the size of the gap, such as the nature of the case, the client represented and the attorney’s practice setting.
They found that women argued at lower rates in civil cases compared to cases involving the government. In 2019, women comprised 24% of all attorneys arguing in civil cases at the Seventh Circuit and 33% in criminal cases.
Even among civil litigation, the gender disparity was more pronounced in some areas than others. Complex civil matters—such as antitrust and insurance cases—had a lower percentage of women arguing, according to the study.
The authors attributed the slight increase in women taking the lead in oral arguments at the Seventh Circuit to the federal government’s improved pipeline of female attorneys over the past decade. In 2019, 40% of all attorneys who represented federal, state or local governments were women, compared to 32% in 2009. Meanwhile, only 22% of attorneys for non-governmental clients were women.
“While the number of women who argued appellate cases on behalf of federal and local governments increased significantly in the last decade, the number of women who had that role for non-government clients remained relatively stagnant,” the report says.
Possible solutions to closing the gap can start in law school, the authors wrote. They recommended that faculty encourage women to apply to federal appellate court clerkships and provide opportunities for students to join appellate advocacy clinics.
Law firms, for their part, should help associates—who are largely women—get oral argument experience by letting them argue cases where the firm was court-appointed. Law firms should also encourage female associates to take pro bono work, and senior attorneys should split their allotted argument time with associates, St. Eve and Luguri said. Holding leadership positions can help women attorneys gain credibility and experience too, they added.
“Across all these domains, a clear picture has emerged: the pipeline is leaking. Law schools, firms, corporate clients, and courts all have a role to play in fixing those leaks, and we have outlined concrete steps that each can take to increase the number of women arguing in front of appellate courts,” they wrote. “It is our hope that these suggestions for change mean that the next decade will bring more progress than the last.”