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John Bair
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Female Lawyers Still Struggle to Snag Lead Roles

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During just the past year and a half, numerous female attorneys have landed leadership roles in national multidistrict litigation (MDL). Likewise, highly regarded judges spoke out about the importance of gender diversity in litigation. To name just a few of these milestones:

U.S. District Judge Kathy Vratil of Kansas appointed ten women to serve on the plaintiffs’ steering committee (PSC) in the Ethicon Power Morcellator MDL.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lisa Walsh signed a resolution urging federal and state trial court judges to work to appoint lawyers with diverse backgrounds to prestigious roles such as lead class counsel.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe appointed two female lawyers to serve as plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel in In re: Generic Digoxin and Doxycycline Antitrust Litigation.

Judge Brian R. Martinotti appointed four women to the PSC in the Invokana (Canagliflozin) Products Liability Litigation, making the PSC 28.5 percent female.

This list is, of course, just a snapshot of the roles female attorneys have obtained; many other major national lawsuits have also received the benefit of diverse leadership.

However, a study by Dana Alvaré of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law noted that 98 percent of all MDLs between 2011 and 2016 had at least one man in the highest lead role. The study, titled “Vying for Lead in the ‘Boys’ Club’: Understanding the Gender Gap in Multidistrict Litigation Leadership Appointments,” also found that 49.7 percent of all cases had no women in the higher levels of leadership.

women in leadership positions

“When broken down into tiered leadership, results show that women were less often appointed to top tier, or ‘tier one’ leadership positions,” Alvaré noted in the study. In fact, while half of enrolled law students are women, the female population drops dramatically as roles advance in the field:

women in law statistics

In terms of litigation leadership, the numbers are getting better. In 2015, the average rate of total female appointment increased to 27 percent — that’s up from 17 percent in 2014.

Still, there is a long row to hoe before the legal field has leveled the playing field for men and women in leadership roles. Awareness about the staggering gender imbalance in the legal field will continue to grow as individuals and organizations make their voices heard on this topic. Studies like Alvaré’s and other published research are important components in creating the snowball effect we need to normalize gender diversity in all areas of the law.

Congratulations to Alvaré for publishing this exceptional piece.

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