Gender and Lawyers’ Worklives

As we think about how to improve legal education, it’s always helpful to understand  our students, their careers, and what they value.   UW Law reference librarian Mary Whisner shared this item, that I missed when it initially came out:

Harvard Study: Women Lawyers Work More Than Men,

Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business, May 12, 2015

Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession released the results of a widespread survey of its graduates which suggests women work more hours on average than men, among other potentially myth-busting findings.

Through a survey of HLS graduates from the classes of 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2000 and other research, it provides a detailed portrait of the gender gap within the legal profession, including all the ways women have advanced or failed to advance.

. . .

The study also finds the women graduates satisfied  with the substance of their work, but dissatisfied with their compensation, while the reverse is true for men.

The full study (86 pp.) is David B. Wilkins et al., The Women and Men of Harvard Law School: Preliminary Results from the HLS Career Study (2015).

Would these findings about Harvard Law grads would hold true for lawyers generally.  If so, are there any implications for legal education?

Here’s one speculation:  Perhaps men experience more cultural push towards financial security and success in the form of work in Big Law. They might also experience less cultural encouragement toward emotional self-awareness, introspection about purpose in life,  and a service orientation. If so, the result might be that more men focus on external motivations and pursue the Big Law path,  even when it’s a bad fit with their interests, skills and values. They then find themselves less satisfied with the substance of their work. (And, given gender myths about women’s lesser commitment to the workforce, the men might be able to meet expectations with fewer hours.)  If so, legal education would be well advised to improve efforts to help students develop their professional identify, focusing both  on developing students understanding of lawyers work in different settings, and on students’ own talents, interests and values.

Another speculation:  Perhaps women tend to be less confident about the quality of their work and log more hours as a result.  Legal education could help them appreciate their own talents and skill level.

Other thoughts?

Lawyers Need “Soft Skills”—So Why Aren’t Law Schools Teaching Them?

There can be little doubt that law schools are largely proficient in teaching “hard skills” such as knowledge of the law, legal analysis, research, writing, and drafting. But what about “soft skills”—the general set of skills which influence how people interact, such as communication, leadership, critical thinking, confidence, team building, time management, creativity, public speaking, and problem solving, just to name a few? Most can agree that these skills are needed to be a successful lawyer, but we can also probably agree that they are not being taught in law school.
Other professions have been teaching and using these skills for some time while law schools have been slow to embrace them. Business and medicine are just two examples. If we agree that proficiency in these skills would not only make for happier clients but also more productive working relationships, why not make the teaching of these skills part of our curriculum? Perhaps some lawyers, professors, and students believe that you are either born with these skills or not—and that no specific training is needed to improve them. However, that is simply not true. Research proves that it is possible to develop these skills just as one can develop other skills. As noted in the ABA’s LawPractice Today, “[i]t is astounding that [soft skills] are not taught in law school, and that fact only serves to increase the responsibilities of law firms to create and implement training initiatives that focus on developing an attorney’s service-oriented skills… [a]nd so law firms have begun to teaching these skills—so why shouldn’t law schools?”
The question, of course is how to teach them. I, along with two of my colleagues, am working on a book aimed at bridging this gap by providing information law school professors can use to teach important skills—such as problem solving, creativity, and mindfulness, to their students. While some resources certainly exist, more are needed, along with the recognition of the importance of the skills and a willingness to teach them.

Lawyer Job Satisfaction and Comparing Downward

In law school, we learn about model answers, class ranking and, for lack of a better term, perfection. It usually seems to be about striving to perform better and comparing to others ahead of ourselves, no matter where we are placed – or place ourselves – in the ranking queue. Yet, along comes work by Nancy Levit and Doug Linder, two professors of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, who examined lawyer happiness. While many people think that money would have a huge impact on happiness, that apparently was just not accurate according to a reported study. But other factors mattered. What struck me about this exploration, in particular, was the finding that “comparing downward” was a good way to promote happiness.

The way I understand it, a downward comparison means to appreciate what we have and see the hundreds, thousands and more people who have less than we do, not those people/lawyers who have more. That would be comparing upward – to the friend at the more prestigious firm, the other friend who is ranked higher in six different categories at school, or to the person who just received the prestigious clerkship you applied for as well.

I know I compare upward quite a bit. I went to Harvard, but was not a top performer (no summa for me), did not get the top clerkship, job, etc. It actually is pragmatically useful, though, to recognize the advantages to comparing down. I really like and use a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that does indeed implicitly compare down:

 “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

This quote is posted in my office and at home, for good reason.

What Makes Your Subject Distinctive?

As law schools continue to develop their learning outcomes, an important question we all should consider is, “what makes my course distinctive?”  For example, in my research on assessment in legal research courses, I was struck by how much the analytical and problem solving skills developed by legal research instruction are the same as those developed by many other courses in the law school curriculum.  That led me to ask, “what makes legal research instruction distinctive?”  The answer was not simply, as an outsider might suggest, that legal research classes teach tools for finding law (digests, Westlaw, etc.).  Rather, I was struck that legal research instruction is distinctive in the extent to which an effective legal researcher must have an appreciation for the power of taxonomies, must exercise imagination in the context of realistic boundaries of time, cost, and purpose, must be able to ask for help, and must develop strong metacognitive practices (to continually question “is this process working?”).  The difference is of degree rather than kind of course, but it is a distinctive difference nonetheless.

Given the narrow focus of legal education, it seems that this question of distinctiveness or “value added” is the most critical question I can ask in planning my courses.  Not that the distinctive outcomes of my courses should be the sole, or even dominant outcomes.  Legal education outcomes require an iterative process and cross-curricular experiences for students to become competent and to enable transfer of learning to new settings.  Yet, understanding what makes my outcomes distinctive forces me to justify my outcomes and consider their connections with other law school outcomes.

So what makes my outcomes in Professional Responsibility distinctive?  Certainly the identity of the anticipated uses of the doctrine we are learning leads me to choose to emphasize professional identity formation outcomes as important if not distinctive.  In most law school courses, students are learning the law to serve others and are encouraged to use, interpret, and advocate about the law to achieve a client’s objectives.  In Professional Responsibility, the students will be using the law to advise themselves.  My outcomes include expecting that students will be able to clarify their observational standpoint when considering issues of professional ethics; recognize that self interest clouds judgment and ways to gain more objectivity; and differentiate the approaches to interpretation of law that one might use to advocate for a client regarding past conduct from approaches that are wise, ethical, and effective when interpreting the law to guide our own future conduct.  Finding effective methods to assess students development of these perspective is a challenge but I have found that simply asking students to read cases of attorney discipline and ask, “what went wrong with the attorney’s thinking?” is a good place to start.

What makes your course outcomes distinctive?  How has that led to distinctive assessment practices?

Building on Best Practices now available as eBook

Are you trying to:

  • Develop a meaningful law school mission statement?
  • Understand new accreditation requirements, learning goals, and outcomes assessment?
  •  Expand your experiential offerings?  Decide whether to use modules or courses?  An on-site clinic, an externship, or community partnership?
  •  Teach ALL of your students in the most effective ways, using a full range of teaching methods?
  • Add to your curriculum more of the professional identity, leadership, intercultural, inter-professional and other knowledge, skills, and values sought by 21st century legal employers?
  • Lead thoughtfully in the face of the challenges facing legal education today?

These and other topics are addressed in Building on Best Practices:  Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World,  now available in ebook format from LexisNexis at no charge.

The print version is not yet out.  LEXIS-NEXIS is taking advance orders for $50, plus shipping.  BUT we understand that they will make one copy available to every US legal educator for free upon on request.  Details on this and international availability still to come.

Thanks, and congratulations, to book project sponsor Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), the more than fifty legal educators who participated as authors, and the countless others who assisted as readers and in numerous other ways.

And, a huge shout-out to my wonderful and talented co-editors, Lisa Radke Bliss, Carrie Wilkes Kaas, and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Journal of Experiential Learning Summaries By: Myra Berman

The second issue of Touro Law Center’s Journal of Experiential Learning will be uploaded online prior to the start of the Fall 2015 semester. This issue is devoted to incubator and residency programs and their contribution to legal education, particularly to the post-JD part of the educational continuum. The creator of the law school incubator movement, Fred Rooney of Touro Law, is the guest editor for this edition. Be sure to check the website, for the latest uploads. Articles for the Incubator & Residency issue include

Incubator Development at Home and Abroad: Anecdotal Stories from the Trenches

Fred Rooney

Law School Based Incubators and Access to Justice – Perspectives from Deans

Patricia Salkin, Ellen Suni, Neils Schaumann and Mary Lu Bilek

Incubating Community Law Practices: A Model for Lawyer Training & Access to Law

Luz Herrera

Innovate, Collaborate, & Serve: Louisiana’s “LIFT” – A Legal Incubator and Accelerator Program Startup Guide

Amy Duncan

The Pro Bono Requirement in Incubator Programs: A Reflection on Structuring Pro Bono Work for Program Attorneys

Davida Finger

Creating a Post-Graduate Incubator Program through a Law School-Bar Association Partnership

Robyn L. Meadows, J. Palmer Lockard and Elizabeth G. Simcox

A Custom Tailored Form of Post-Graduate Legal Training: The Rhode Island Center for Justice

Robert McCreanor

Implementing Psychological Resilience Training in Law Incubators

Mark Heekin

An Examination of the Special Role Career Service Professionals Can Play in the Development and Success of Law School Incubator Programs

Sumana Wolk and Erica Edwards-Oneal

The third issue focuses on pre-JD experiential learning programs, many of which are pipeline programs offered by undergraduate institutions. The guest editor of that issue is Diana D. Juettner, J.D. Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. If you or a colleague would like to contribute, please contact Coordinating Editor, Associate Dean Myra Berman at

DOE Gainful Employment Rule Affects For-Profit Law Schools

Federal district courts in New York and the District of Columbia have rejected challenges to the Department of Education’s “gainful employment rule”. A recent story in The American Lawyer, “New Rule Spells Trouble for For-Profit Law Schools”, explains how the DOE gainful employment rule will likely affect for-profit law schools. The gainful employment rule, which is based on graduates’ annual incomes and their discretionary incomes, requires a for-profit school’s graduates to have debt payments that are 8% or less of their annual incomes, or 20% or less of their discretionary incomes. A school fails the test if student debt payments exceed 12% of annual incomes or 30% of discretionary incomes. A school is considered “in the zone” if loan payments of graduates are greater than or equal to 12% of their annual incomes, or payments are greater than 10% but less than or equal to 30% of discretionary incomes. A for-profit school becomes ineligible for federal loans if it fails both the annual income and discretionary income tests in any two of three years, or if it fails both tests or is in the zone for four years. The story also explains that graduates’ enrollment in income-based repayment programs is not considered in the government’s application of the new rule. The American Lawyer story contains tables that project how the rule could be applied based on available debt, income, and employment information for graduates at the six for-profit law schools. The DOE gainful employment rule goes into effect July 1, 2015.


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