News and Announcements

Law Women Anticipate Leaving Their Employer Three Years Earlier Than Men

Women Less Satisfied with Advancement Opportunities

Just as the number of women entering law school is expected to outpace men for the first time in 2001, Catalyst’s new study explores the reasons why legal employers are not retaining women in equal numbers with men, much less advancing them to partner. Although over 40 percent of law school students since 1985, women still make up less than 16 percent of law partners nationally and 14 percent of Fortune 500 general counsels.

Catalyst’s latest research, however, indicates that losing women lawyers is not a foregone conclusion. Employers who provide women with mentors, control over their work, and development and advancement opportunities have a better chance of retaining women, according to Catalyst’s study, Women in Law: Making the Case, released today at a press breakfast at Columbia Law School.

“These women are saying they want high-profile assignments, advancement opportunities, and flexibility to get the job done on their own terms,” said Sheila Wellington, President of Catalyst. “And last, but not least, they want a mentor who can help them figure it all out.”

Women are less satisfied with advancement opportunities than men. Women of color are the least satisfied of any group on all fronts.

More than two-thirds of women and nearly half of men agree that the most significant barrier to women’s advancement is commitment to family responsibilities. Men don’t recognize the other top barriers women face: exclusion from informal networks and lack of mentors.


In virtually equal numbers women (68%) and men (66%) find it difficult to balance the demands of work and personal life. But women’s careers are affected in ways men’s are not because they make different choices. Thirty-four percent of women have worked part time, compared to 9 percent of men. However, men are beginning to make the same career decisions as women. Forty-five percent of women cite work/life balance as a top reason for selecting their current employer and 34 percent of men agree.

Compared to law firms, corporate legal departments do not provide women with a significantly higher level of either advancement opportunity or work/life balance. While 57 percent of women who went to work in-house did so seeking better work/life balance, 66 percent report not having found it.

“Counter to what many people believe, this Catalyst study shows that for women, the culture of in-house legal departments is reported to be no more conducive to a balanced personal and professional life than are law firms,” Wellington said.

“Women are the emerging majority in the legal profession,” said Martha W. Barnett, President of the American Bar Association. “The law firms and corporate legal departments that want to be successful in the future need to focus on recruitment, retention and advancement of women.”

The Catalyst report contains an in-depth series of recommendations for legal employers. For example, developing the financial case for retaining and advancing women, laying out policies and strategies on flexible work arrangements, mentoring and networking.

More than 1,430 law school graduates from the sponsoring schools from the classes of 1970 through 1999 responded to the Catalyst survey. Sixty-four percent (922) were women and 36 percent (517) were men. This study is national in scope and features a geographically representative, random sample. The study focuses not just on women in law firms and corporate legal departments, but includes a sample of women lawyers who work in government, education and the nonprofit sector.

The press breakfast, attended by over 200 lawyers and members of the media , began with a presentation of findings by Catalyst President Sheila Wellington. Martha W. Barnett, President of the American Bar Association, then moderated a panel discussion. Panelists included Cynthia Quarterman, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP; Harriet Rabb, General Counsel, Department of Health and Human Services; Laraine Rothenberg, Partner, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Elizabeth Wang, VP and General Counsel, DoubleClick, Inc.

This study was sponsored by Columbia Law School, with a special grant from The New York Community Trust -Wallace Reader’s Digest Special Projects Fund; Harvard Law School; the University of California-Berkeley (Boalt Hall) Law School; the University of Michigan Law School; and Yale Law School.

About Catalyst
Catalyst is a nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business and the professions. The leading source of information on women in business for the past four decades, Catalyst has the knowledge and tools that help employers and women maximize their potential. Catalyst President Sheila Wellington is the author of the forthcoming Be Your Own Mentor, slated for publication in February by Random House. For additional information, please visit our website at or call 212-514-7600.