Are Women Guided To Take More Female Centric Classes In Law School?

It is a tough game for female lawyers these days. We have talked about how there is a significant drop off for female lawyers in their 30′s. Law firms are having trouble figuring out how to maintain women when they hit their prime child-raising years but also women are choosing to leave. At the equity partnership level, only 15% of the lawyers are women. It also seems that even young female lawyers, who aren’t married, are put on the “mommy law track.” However, it seems that this track could be starting as early as law school when female law students may be taking (and may be encouraged to) more female centric classes because counselors and professors think this may put them on a more-female friendly employment track. But does this hurt their chances for working in other areas of the law? We talked to some law students and lawyers about this.

The second year of law school is a tough time because students are taking a bar review course so professors encourage students to take a course, besides the required ones, that really interest them. One woman who is finishing up her second year at a top law school said one professor did encourage her to take a seminar of children’s law as well as family law, classes that are known for having more women in them. More women also practice family law and children’s law.

These are areas of law that draw more women because of the subject matter but maybe because the working environments may be more female friendly. However, because the way law is set up (with billable hours) it is always tough for working parents. But could taking more female-centric law classes be a red flag for employers? These women may have only taken one or two seminars on family law but could this indicate that they are not going to be rainmakers for a firm?

And it’s not like graduating female law students need anything else working against them. Not only do female partners make less money than male partners but now it turns out so do female associates. The difference comes up in bonuses, where women’s bonuses lag 6% in lockstep firms, and 8% in nonlockstep firms.

A woman named Beth, also a second year student,  wrote for the Ms. JD blog:

“For female law students like myself and my friends, “following our interests” in the law, but more immediately, in course selection, has overtones of gender, particularly by taking classes percieved to be “women’s” areas of the law: family law, children’s advocacy, legal aid, sexual assault.

Or more bluntly: we fear our transcripts will make us look too much like women.

In a male-dominated legal field, are we setting ourselves up for failure? Laying our own traps? Are we painting our own collars pink?

I honestly don’t know what the answers are to these questions. When a male friend of mine tells me he is taking a seminar on children’s law, I think he sounds like a cool guy with a diverse range of experiences. (Although perhaps this, too, could raise eyebrows?) Yet when I am enrolled in this same course in addition to Evidence, Trusts & Estates, and Family Law, I worry whether I sound like a one-trick pony. A one-trick pony who is a woman who is being too much of a female one-trick pony.”

A woman who just graduated from a top law school told The Grindstone:

“So I wouldn’t say that there is a female law class, but there are definitely “hard” and “soft” classes (Take “Capital Markets” versus “Philosophy & the Law”) and there are also classes with disproportionately high numbers of students (Poverty Law, Sex Discrimination come into mind).

I wouldn’t say that anyone is encouraged to take any type of classes though. So for instance, I know that of like 100 person Sex Discrimination class with this famous radical feminist professor had probably less than 10 men, but I don’t think anyone told women/men to take/not take it.

At a place like my school, that is so corporate law focused, there is probably more of an even gender divide in hard law classes though.”

Share This Post:
    • Avodah

      Nobody in law school forces students to take or not take anything- except, of course, classes that are required for everything.

      As far as “Philosophy and the Law” being “soft”. Please don’t tell that to Martha Nussbaum, a well-known, erudite female law professor.

      Law schools open their doors to qualified males and females. However, it is up to each individual to carve their own legal profession.

      Ms. Lepore- I appreciate your efforts to bring to light gender issues in the workforce. However, many of your posts are shallow explorations of what you think are problems rather than well-research solution-based pieces.

      Constantly complaining about made-up problems will not help women advance in the workplace. Providing real solutions will.

    • Mkiella

      I am a female that graduated at the top of my law school class and never once did I feel pressured into taking more women oriented courses. The “soft” classes that are mentioned were usually taken by those who thought they would be easier then, say, the “hard” classes. I made the mistake of taking one of these classes and actually didn’t like it at all. I preferred the harder classes that had an equal distribution of women and men.

      I also took family law because it was recommended that we know family law topics for the bar exam. I would say that in that class there was a pretty even distribution of men and women.

      While I do think there are legal topics that are preferred by women over men, I think that there is enough diversity in the personalities at law schools that a lot of women are interested in “male” typs of classes – like securities law, litigation, and bankrtupcy.

      Check out my blog at

    • Avodah

      Mrs. Professionalism,

      Out of curiosity- what kind of law do you practice now?