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Wanted: Women law school professors

By Mona Hathout

Mona Hathout
Hathout

Over the past 25 years, society has become increasingly concerned with gender gaps and glass ceilings. The legal profession has taken a prominent role in addressing the discrepancies and redressing the inequities faced by women in the national workplace. However, our profession may have overlooked itself. The significant gaps which currently exist at the legal corporate and partnership levels are changing very slowly.

And beginning in the "formative years" of a female attorney's life, a serious gender discrepancy among law school faculty makes clear to women students the concept that their profession is male-dominated. The situation for minority students is even more extreme.

The latest figures from the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession indicate that women now comprise nearly one-half of all law school students and slightly over 42 percent of all associates. However, the upper echelons of the profession remain embarrassingly disparate. For example, women make up only 16 percent of partners in law firms nationwide; minorities make up only 4 percent.

Women do not fare much better when it comes to representation on law school faculties. Although women make up close to 50 percent of law school students, they only comprise 35 percent of full-time faculty of all kinds and only 25 percent of tenured faculty, holders of the most powerful and prestigious positions. It is even more disturbing that only 16 percent of law school deans are women.

Instead of teaching gender equality by example, law school faculties are no more progressive or equitable than academia in general. In a 2001 article which appeared in the Minnesota Review, "The Gender Gap in the Academic Labor Crisis," the author reports that "not only are women paid less than men in almost every faculty position, they are much more likely to stay on the lower rungs of the academic ladder." In law schools, they are more likely to be adjuncts and writing instructors. Along with the differences in the upper levels of academia, there are also significant differences in the bottom line. The Minnesota article notes that "on average, male faculty earn nearly $10,300 more than female faculty."

Within the practice of law, the salary differential is even greater. The ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession 2003 Report indicates that the median weekly income for women lawyers working full-time is $1,237 while for male lawyers the amount is $1,610 — a difference of more than 25 percent, or $19,000 per year.

The first step to correcting, or at least ameliorating, such incongruities should be taken at the law school faculty level. It is not just a matter of appropriate representation within the faculty; such a change affects the substance of legal education itself.

According to a survey of law school faculty conducted in 2000 (Preliminary Report, Law School Faculty Views on Diversity in the Classroom and the Law School Community, Richard A. White, May 2000), some of the effects of law school faculty diversity included: increased attention to racial/ethnic issues in class; adjusting courses to address racial/ethnic issues; developing new course offerings; re-examining criteria for evaluation of students; and changing pedagogy to encourage discussion among diverse students. Gender change would have similar impact.

Proactive measures must thus be taken to encourage greater diversity of all types in law school faculties. An important first step toward doing this is helping diverse law students and attorneys understand the mystifying process of how one becomes a law professor and discussing the practical steps involved in attaining this goal.

Sources such as the AALS' "Uncloaking Law School Hiring" and the upcoming program sponsored by the State Bar's Committee on Women in the Law, "So You Want to Teach Law?" to be held April 17 at Loyola Law School, provide an excellent initial orientation. Programs such as "So You Want to Teach Law?" have the potential to make a real difference by providing practical instruction for those interested in pursuing this career path. As law faculties become more diverse on all levels, the profession as a whole will reap the benefits.

Mona Hathout is a member of the State Bar Committee on Women in the Law. She practices at Progressive Management Resources Inc. in Los Angeles, which specializes in consent decree monitoring. To register for the Committee on Women in the Law program "So You Want to Teach Law?" call 415-538-2508.

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