When discussing my first semester of law school with friends and family, they often asked how many women were in my class and how many female professors taught at the school. News articles, blogs, and TV shows often depict both the learning and practice of law as a boys’ club reluctant to bring women into the fold.
Despite this popular assumption, the first couple times I was asked about the law school gender divide, I was a little taken aback. My generation sees more women than men in many educational disciplines, and the gender disparity of my undergraduate and law school classes was never significant enough for me to notice.
But, since I still couldn’t answer my friends’ and family’s question, I decided one day to count the number of women in my section of 35 students. Before I was halfway around the room it was clear that women outnumber men.
This is true for the entire 1L class. Out of 71 of us, 38 are female and 33 are male. The current 2L class is nearly neck-and-neck with 40 women and 43 men. The gap widens for our 3L class with only 33 females out of 83 students.
These numbers put UM at the national average. For the past few years, the percentage of women enrolled in law schools throughout the U.S. has hovered around 47%. Those who study and discuss these numbers express concern that female enrollment in law school is stagnating and falling behind female enrollment numbers in other areas of graduate-level education.
That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case at UM Law. Three out of the past five years, the incoming classes skewed at a higher percentage of women than the national average. The 1L class easily skirted that number at 54%, while the 2L class and 2011 incoming class skewed closer to 50%.
Our UM faculty outpaces the national average by an even higher margin. An impressive 57% of our professors are female (12 out of 21), which demolishes the 36% national average of female law faculty.
However, when looking at practicing attorneys in the state as a whole, Montana dips below the national gender divide. Nearly twice as many male lawyers practice in the state than female lawyers at 2346 men to 1212 women. This means that only 34% of Montana lawyers are women.
That percentage seems low, and, quite frankly, it is. Unfortunately, it’s nearly on par with the national statistics. According to the most recent data available from the American Bar Association, a mere 36% of lawyers in the United States are women.
Experts attribute this low showing to women leaving practice to raise a family, avoid crushing work hours, or to work in a field that feels like less of a boys’ club. But, the generational divide plays into it, too. As more and more women graduate from law school, they will populate more of the workforce, gradually changing the composition and culture of the profession.
Written by: Chelsea Bissell.