Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Do Female Lawyers Thrive In-House?

The ABA Journal asks the question of whether female attorneys are more successful in corporate jobs than in law firms due to corporations placing a higher value on female lawyers' "people skills."

The article then sloppily compares hard data (females comprising 15% of equity partners at large law firms) with anecdote ("some women lawyers are suggesting that female attorneys do better, overall, when working in-house").

Oh, but data's not hard to find. It turns out that of Fortune 500 General Counsel, women comprise (drum roll, please) . . .


Huh. That's only slightly better than the equity partner rate.

Here's two things I know: First, people skills are important in corporations, far more so than in law firms. And second, there are plenty of attorneys with bad people skills. Lack of people skills is an equal-opportunity problem. It's why attorneys score in the 13th percentile for sociability (or as one managing partner at a large firm once told me, the 8th percentile if you control for rainmakers).

The data above would tell us that women lawyers have only marginally better people skills. And that margin could likely be explained away by the job style and hiring difference between equity partners and Fortune 500 GCs.

Can we stop falling back on counter-productive, fluffy gender stereotypes like "better people skills" - especially when the data doesn't bear them out?

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