Gender Gap Persists Among Lead Trial Counsel

July 14, 2015, 12:20 PM

When it comes to lead trial counsel, the gender divide shows no signs of going away.

Men remain much more likely to take on the role of lead trial counsel, and women are far less likely than men to be lead counsel in contract, tort, labor and intellectual property cases, according to the study prepared for the American Bar Association and based on a random sampling of cases filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois in 2013.

In civil matters, men act as lead counsel in 76 percent of cases. Put another way, men are three times more likely than women to appear as lead counsel. In criminal cases, the difference is even more stark: Men are almost four times as likely as women to take the lead.

And approximately 68 percent of all attorneys appearing in civil cases — no matter what their role — are men.

The majority of men who are lead counsel in criminal cases represent defendants, while the majority of women who are lead counsel appear for the government. In civil cases, more women represent governments — whether federal, state or local — than individual defendants. Not surprisingly for anyone who follows class actions, 87 percent of lead counsel in those cases are men.

The report, “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table,” was prepared by Stephanie Scharf, a partner at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC, and Roberta Liebenberg, a senior partner at Fine, Kaplan & Black RPC, for the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the American Bar Foundation.

Scharf is a member of the Commission on Women in the Profession and a former president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. Liebenberg is chair of DirectWomen and immediate past chair of the Commission on Women in the Profession.

The two lawyers said that although women comprise about half of most law school classes, “relying on an entry-level pipeline to drive gender diversity is not enough.”

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