Bar Chief’s Glass Ceiling Theory: Assumptions and Slights

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Lorelie Masters has her theory about why so many women leave law firms or fail to advance into partnership positions. She attributes the problem to “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” or, in the words of Legal Times, the theory of assumptions and slights.

Masters, president of the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, spoke to Legal Times about her own experiences to explain the glass ceiling chronicled in a recent study by the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Too often, Masters said, women aren’t asked to travel because of fears of the impact on family life. Or a woman speaks up at a meeting, but her idea isn’t praised until it’s raised in slightly different form by a man.

Masters, an insurance litigator, said that at her previous firm, Anderson Kill & Olick, opportunities were not always evenly distributed. “I did feel that at my old firm, the business that came in the door went to the guys,” she told Legal Times.

At one time, Masters thought that if she kept her nose to the grindstone and did her best, success would follow. The formula worked as a student. “And then in 1994, I realized that no one is going to know who Lorie Masters is unless I take charge,” she said.

Masters, who now works at Jenner & Block, is advising law firms to provide better mentoring from the most powerful partners and to conduct exit interviews with departing lawyers to find out what spurred them to leave.

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