Myth busting in HR management in law firms #1: Women lawyers leave the practice of law more often because they choose to prioritize family over work

I would like to stimulate the discussion about HR management in law firms by sharing research conclusions that seriously calls into question common notions in the legal industry. I’ll do so once a week, to see just how many such discrepancies I can identify.

I will start with a theme that I have spent quite a bit researching in the last year in the wake of the #metoo movement – Inclusion and Diversity in law firms based on Gender.

Common notion: Women lawyers are more prone to leave their workplace because of their tendency to choose family over the practice of law.

Fact: “Wallace (2001) found that when women lawyers’ work is sufficiently challenging and service oriented, while not conflicting with their home life, they are more satisfied with and in fact are more committed to the practice of law than their male colleagues.”

Source: Leaving Law and Barriers to Re-entry, Kay et al, page 6,

My comment: The Wallace study addresses the gender discrepancy in the practice of law in general, but the document linked above quite clearly defines the factors that drive some women lawyers out of law firms in particular. While the factors in the two studies varies to some extent, it is clear that progressive legal workplaces successfully can reduce staff turnover among women lawyers by implementing strategies based on studies such as these. My understanding is that family is a factor with predictive power in staff turnover, but one that can be mitigated to a much greater extent than what is common today. Broadly speaking, women lawyers are typically not choosing family over practice, but are rather forced out by outdated policies and organizational culture.

Leaving Law and Barriers to Re-entry is an important study because it provides a high level blueprint for a practical, research based strategy for law firms to tackle the challenge of women lawyers leaving firms in greater numbers than their male colleagues. I am now in the final research stage of creating a survey that maps these very factors in law firms, which will generate a road map for bridging the gender gap in staff turnover in the legal industry.

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