Women in the Law

What does it take to retain female lawyers in criminal justice? ABA task force has some ideas

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More job flexibility and mental health support are among the solutions that could help lead to improvements in the hiring, retention and promotion of female lawyers in the criminal justice system, according to an ABA task force.

The ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Women in Criminal Justice Task Force identified obstacles faced by female lawyers in the field and ways to address the barriers in a report titled Pulling Back the Curtain. A Sept. 27 press release is here.

The report is based on a follow-up survey of lawyers who participated in task force listening sessions. Forty-nine out of 144 people responded to the survey. The aim was to learn why women, particularly women of color, were left out of or choosing to leave criminal law.

The report identified these problems:

• Limited flexibility with work schedules. Ways to address the problem include job sharing, part-time work, work from home and court schedules that accommodate children’s school schedules.

• Insufficient wellness resources. Ways to address the problem include creating wellness spaces in offices and courthouses, free therapy and wellness information, and regular meetings with lawyers.

• Deficient training opportunities and lack of meaningful mentoring. The problems could be addressed with pooled resources with other jurisdictions and amplified, free bar association resources.

When respondents were asked what they needed to remain in the criminal justice field, mental health support and self-care were addressed several times.

“There are very little resources for therapy and mental health,” said one respondent. “This field is full of substance abuse because of the amount of stress and the level of workload we have.”

Said another respondent: “I am 65 and have been at this for 35 years, pouring heart, soul and body into this. What would it take to keep at it?? A change of pace or a break. A colleague of mine quit after about three years, saying she had treated the job as a sprint rather than a marathon. I feel I’ve been sprinting a marathon.”

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