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Harvard Study: Women Lawyers Work More Than Men

Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession on Monday released the results of a widespread survey of its graduates which suggests women work more hours on average than men, among other potentially myth-busting findings.

Through a survey of HLS graduates from the classes of 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2000 and other research, it provides a detailed portrait of the gender gap within the legal profession, including all the ways women have advanced or failed to advance.

Entitled, “The Women and Men of Harvard Law School,” it collected data on the four HLS classes through a survey that was sent by mail between 2009 and 2010 and is also available online. The authors do not give the exact number of participants, but report a 35 percent response rate, which means hundreds of graduates participated given HLS’s current class size of roughly 500 students.

Of course the scope is limited by the fact that only HLS graduates participated, but the school’s prestige means that all of the participants enter the legal market with above average qualifications, if nothing else.

Looking at the jobs held by men and women long after law school graduation, the report examines the gender gap from a number of angles including employment after having children, satisfaction levels, leadership positions held, and also employment across sectors.

Progress has been measured for women, the report found. For instance, it found women are satisfied with the substance of the work they’re doing but dissatisfied with their compensation. Men report the opposite.

“On the one hand, the number of women entering the profession has increased dramatically in recent decades, and women lawyers can now be found in leadership positions in virtually every major legal institution in the country, including three female justices on the United States Supreme Court,” the report’s authors wrote.

The authors include David Wilkins, who is the Lester Kissel Professor of Law at HLS, and also Bryon Fong, assistant research director at HLS’s Center on the Legal Profession, and Ronit Dinovitzer, an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

“And yet,” they added, “the percentage of women in these top positions remains far below their representation in the profession, even when adjusted for the fact that women did not begin to enter legal practice in significant numbers until the 1970s. To make matters worse, even women who have achieved important career success appear to be leaving their prestigious positions — and the profession as a whole — in alarming numbers.”

Among the findings:

The figure below shows that when it comes to holding leadership positions, women are best represented in corporate legal departments and as the head of their practice groups, and are least likely to be the chief operating officer or head of an office or region. The report does not provide any detail about how many law firms and companies are represented in the data or how many HLS graduates participated in the study.

HLS Career Study Leadership Positions


The figure below shows the number of hours worked per week within law firms, as reported by the HLS graduates who took the survey. Wilkins noted one important distinction is that it does not show the number of hours billed, which need to be approved by a manager and necessarily requires assessing the value of a lawyer’s work.

In terms of the number of hours worked, however, women outpaced men in all four classes, with women in the class of 2000 working nearly eight hours more per week.

HLS Career Study Hours worked

The figure below shows women are satisfied with the substance of their work — which was defined as the intellectual challenges, value to society, level of responsibility and a number of other factors. But women were dissatisfied with the “rewards,” which was defined as compensation and performance evaluation. Nor were women satisified with “control,” which was defined as work and personal life integration, the amount of work and the work environment.

Men expressed the opposite: satisfaction with compensation, and to a tiny extent control, but dissatisfaction with the substance of the work.

HLS Career Study Factors of Satisfaction

The report holds a trove of other findings and can be accessed online at the link above. Please feel free to leave comments about the findings in the comments section below.

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