“Lean In” To What?

431852_46147659-e1362636502404-150x150Author: Alison Monahan

I’ll withhold judgment on Sheryl Sandberg’s book until I actually read it, but the impending publication seems to have reignited an old debate: How much should we collectively worry about the dismal retention rates for women (and minorities) in large law firms?

Does it matter if these firms remain bastions of the old white guys? And, if it matters, is it okay to pressure people to stick around, even if they’d rather bail out and reclaim a little “me” time? (Or, I don’t know, get a full night’s sleep every now and then?)

To certain ears, it’s heretical for me to say this, but I just can’t work up too much angst about the fact that women are leaving BigLaw in droves. Why wouldn’t they?

Let’s look at the facts:

  • You’re probably not going to make partner. I think we can all agree that BigLaw is an “up or out” system for the most part. Sure, there are exceptions with very specialized of counsel positions, but — basically — you can’t stick around for the long term unless you make partner. Out of curiosity, I looked up one of the several firms I summered at, to see how many partners they made this year: Less than ten (and a few of those were people who were way, way behind their class year so they don’t really count). I can’t remember exactly how many people were in my summer class, but I seem to recall it was around 150. I’m not much of a gambler, but I probably wouldn’t place too many chips on a bet returning less than 5%.
  • There are other, better paths to power. One argument that’s often made for why women have to stay in BigLaw is that it’s “where the power is” in the profession. In this version of the world, the best and highest indication of power is a seat on the compensation committee of a large law firm. (I’m not making this up. This argument has been made to me directly, in person.) I’m gonna have to call bullshit on this. A) If money = power, there are easier ways to make a lot of money (personally, I’d suggest private equity, but you pick your poison). B) This money-centric view of power (where power = the ability to decide how much your other “partners” are going to make) is just ridiculously limiting. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have power? Should she have stayed in a law firm instead of becoming Secretary of State? Should Barack Obama have returned to Sidley as an associate instead of becoming a community organizer? Should everyone doing impact litigation quiten masse and apply for law firm jobs? Not buying it.

To finish reading this post, head on over to The Girl’s Guide to Law School.
To finish reading this post, head on over to The Girl’s Guide to Law School.

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