This month’s issue of the American Lawyer includes a very interesting feature. The magazine identified 45 up-and-coming female attorneys under the age of 45, at Am Law 200 firms. These kinds of lists tend to be nothing more than a popularity contest, but Am Law seemed to do a thorough job in culling through a lot of nominees to come up with their 45 people. They put in a lot of work.
What caught my attention was Am Law’s stated reason for putting together the list:
Whether it’s “Dealmakers of the Year,” “Litigation Department of the Year,” “Big Suits,” or “Big Deals,” the pages of The American Lawyer typically brim with pictures of men. But time and again, we’ve come across remarkable women lawyers, many of whom fell outside of our deals-and-suits-heavy coverage. To give them their due, we decided to identify the best of the best among young women lawyers in The Am Law 200, and bring them together in a single issue.
Does that strike anybody as slightly patronizing?
It’s kind of like Am Law is saying: “We put together silly little lists all the time, but they always highlight men. Instead of taking a hard look at why our coverage is so male-centric and coming up with a more gender-neutral approach towards identifying the best of the best, we decided to segregate out the women so they don’t have to compete with the big bad men.” I mean, is Am Law trying to tell us that there is no chance that a woman could be “Dealmaker of the Year” (whatever the heck that means)?
And what’s with the language “time and again, we’ve come across remarkable women lawyers.” Ya think? That’s a backhanded compliment right in the vein of “that [black guy] speaks so well.” I’d much prefer Am Law to say, “Time and again, we come across remarkable women lawyers whom we generally ignore in our coverage. So we’re going to change that because it’s 2011, not an episode of Mad Men.”
Of course, Am Law probably doesn’t think it has a problem with its general coverage of female attorneys. Instead, there’s the Vivia Chen companion article that perhaps explains the lack of coverage on female attorneys:
Time to pop the champagne and celebrate women in the profession, right? Not so fast. Though these 45 women deserve to be toasted for their success, let’s also recognize them for what they are: the exceptions. In fact, my colleagues who reported on this issue tell me that they had to dig deep to find women who played lead roles in certain practices, such as international arbitration, private equity dealmaking, and bankruptcy.
Indeed, the 45 are the rare birds, soaring above the vast majority of women lawyers who still lag well behind their male colleagues.
Right, Am Law doesn’t do a lot of coverage on powerful female attorneys because there aren’t very many powerful female attorneys. Biglaw is still an old boys’ club, and Am Law is just calling it like it sees it.
I think that’s right, and from that perspective, this feature about top female attorneys is a great job by the publication. A list like this is necessary.
But it’s not sufficient. Now that they’ve done all of this research into the up and coming women in Biglaw, maybe Am Law can figure out how to highlight these ladies in their “normal” coverage of the big, d**k-swinging, bad-ass litigators and dealmakers of the week.
So take a look at the full list. Perhaps you know or work with some of the honorees?
Congratulations to these women. Hopefully we’ll see their names with some regularity going forward.