Women in Law: Obstacles and Opportunities

One of the most significant transformations in American society in recent decades is the growing ranks of women in the law and on the bench. In 1970, women made up less than five percent of the nation’s lawyers, a figure that has since jumped to 34 percent. Half of law school students today are women, and more women now hold judicial clerkships than do men. Yet barriers to advancement remain. Women hold just one-in-four federal or state judgeships and a scant four percent of the partnerships in the nation’s top 200 firms. Only one-in-five law school deans are women and an even smaller percentage are state attorney generals. On average, women lawyers make 78 percent of what their male counterparts bring home. What are the obstacles for advancement for women and other minorities in law and how can they be overcome?

Also, given this transformation, what strengths do women bring to the legal profession and the judiciary? Could greater exposure to discrimination and burdens of childcare spur sympathy for those who bear similar hardships? Some social science research suggests women judges might be more empathetic and focused on the collective good, but there is also evidence they may be tougher when it comes to violent crimes. Perhaps gender-based differences will prove inconsequential.  As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once noted, “The power I exert on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not on my gender.”

In recognition of the 2016 Morton A. Brody Distinguished Judicial Service Award Recipient, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, the first Asian-Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice, this panel will offer a lively, open-ended discussion on a host of important issues related to the growing number of women and minorities in the legal profession.

The panel will be moderated by the Honorable Nancy Torresen, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Maine.

Panelists include:

Danielle Conway
Dean, University of Maine School of Law

The Honorable Barbara Lynn
Judge, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas

Maeghan Maloney
District Attorney, Kennebec and Somerset Counties of Maine