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Women Lawyers Held to Tougher Standard When It Comes to Anger

Aug. 13, 2018, 11:37 PM

A new study says that women lawyers who display anger, assertive behavior, or self-promotion are going to be seen more negatively than a male lawyer seen acting the same way.

The findings come from a new survey by the Center for Worklife Law together with the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

The full report, a survey of nearly 3,000 lawyers, is slated for release in September but a detailed article in the ABA Journal laid out the specifics of the survey’s finding that emotions displayed by women lawyers receive different treatment than those of their male counterparts.

Survey results found that fewer women than men felt free to express anger at work when it’s justified.

Only 44 percent said they were free to do so compared to 56 percent of white men who felt that they could. Even fewer women of color – only 40 percent – felt they could show anger at work on an appropriate occasion.

The report is called “You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession.”

The authors declined to comment on the report until its release date, but the anger display findings dovetail with other studies that show women lawyers persistently receive different treatment in similar circumstances.

Two years ago, the ABA addressed the frequent use of words like “honey” and “darling” directed at women lawyers in work settings such as depositions and courtrooms. The lawyers’ association adopted an ethics rule that it is professional misconduct to discriminate against or another lawyer in the course of practicing law.

Female lawyers had long complained that use of such demeaning and misogynistic terms - and sometimes gestures - were not infrequent in the courtroom and served to undermine opposing counsel.

Some two dozen state bars had adopted rules blocking such behavior but the ABA rule adoption was the first nationwide prohibition, designed to counter phrases and remarks such as “calm down” directed at women. Women lawyers said belittling remarks were used to throw them off balance while they were representing their client.

The effort to stop such comments stemmed from a 2016 courtroom incident where a male lawyer admonished his female opposing counsel not to raise her voice because “it’s not becoming of a woman.”

Opponents who argued against such rules said a prohibition would impinge on lawyers’ ability to speak freely on behalf of their clients and circumscribe the way they run their practice.

The ABA’s rule passed, without anyone speaking up in open opposition, but the newest ABA survey of 3,000 lawyers indicates that women lawyers continue to experience unequal treatment. And its findings about how much lawyers are interrupted - women far more often than men – appear to be unchanged even in settings as august as the nation’s highest court.

Astudyreleased last year found that women Supreme Court justices were interrupted more often than men. It found that in the 2015 court term, two-thirds of all the interruptions were directed at the three women justices. And justices who interrupted were mostly male, punching above their 78 percent representation by doing 85 percent of the interrupting.

In the latest ABA survey, two-thirds of the male lawyers surveyed said they were rarely interrupted. That compared to half the women.

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