Women in the Law

New York bar reports minor increases in women’s court participation since 2017

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Not much has changed in the three years since the New York State Bar Association released a landmark report highlighting the scarcity of female attorneys in lead roles in court cases in the state, according to a new study published Thursday.

The study, prepared by NYSBA’s Commercial & Federal Litigation Section Task Force on Women’s Initiatives, shows that 25.3% of attorneys in lead counsel roles are now women, which represents a minimal increase from the 24.7% identified by the 2017 report. A press release is here and Bloomberg Law has coverage.

“It is unacceptable and disturbing that more has not been done to improve representation of women attorneys in New York courtrooms when the task force’s 2017 report not only highlighted a significant disparity but outlined a road map for addressing it,” NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg said in the release.

According to the NYSBA, its 2017 report served as “the first-ever observational study of the gender of lawyers who regularly had leadership and speaking roles in courtrooms.” The task force asked state and federal judges in New York to track the gender of lawyers who appeared and spoke in their courtrooms, as well as their types of cases, for four months prior to the release of the report.

Similar methodology was used for the 2020 update, the bar association says, with more than 5,000 responses received from judges between September and December 2019 compared to the nearly 2,800 received in 2017.

According to the new study, 26.7% of attorneys appearing in civil and criminal cases in New York are women. This represents only a 1.5% increase since the 2017 report.

The updated study also shows “little progress with respect to private sector attorneys.” In 2020, 20.8% of the lead attorneys were women, as compared to 19.4% in 2017. In the public sector, 35.1% of lead attorneys are now women, versus 38.2% three years ago.

Shira Scheindlin, a retired U.S. district judge who is a principal author of the report, pointed out that despite these limited gains, the report also found that “women are now appearing in court more often than three years ago both in speaking roles and otherwise.”

As an example, women now account for 36.4% of additional counsel roles, which represents a 9% increase since 2017.

“We are pleased by this progress but recognize that there is still much room for improvement,” Scheindlin, who is now of counsel to Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York City, said in the press release. “The report makes many recommendations that we believe will increase the presence of women in both the courtroom and in ADR. Now is the time to implement these recommendations.”

The task force’s recommendations include establishing more private law firm programs that support, train and advance female attorneys; continuing in-house counsel’s focus on diversity in its private law firm partners; and supporting the judiciary’s efforts to encourage more women to lead in the courtroom.

Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, task force members also note in the report that they “remain resolute in continuing the forward momentum toward providing greater opportunities for women and minorities.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Only 25 percent of lead counsel roles in New York courts are held by women, study finds”

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