President’s Message: Why Women are Leaving Big Law

Welcome Back! The vacations are over, the kids are back in school and it is back to the shop. But not for all of us.

Although women make up about 50% of law students, it’s common knowledge that as the years pass, the numbers of women practicing law in traditional firms dwindle. Often the decline is in numbers is attributed to desire to raise a family. However, the ABA recently reported ALM Intelligence findings that contradict that commonly held belief. Women comprise 45 percent of 30-year-old lawyers at law firms, 41 percent of 40-year-old lawyers, and 27 percent of 50-year-old lawyers. Clearly, child-rearing is not the only reason women opt out of the traditional law firms.

The founders of Montage Legal Group, one of the first networks of freelance attorneys, decided to survey lawyer applicants to learn why they were leaving Big Law. They questioned 400 lawyers, then they focused on the responses from women (about 84% of the respondents), to try to get some understanding of what drives these departures. The results, while not entirely scientific, are interesting nonetheless.

The top three reasons respondents gave for leaving Big Law were: (1) wanting to spend more time with family; (2) the toxic culture; and (3). the job demanded too much time. The respondents were then asked what changes might have led them to remain. Not surprisingly, they said (1) Policies that would have allowed them to work on a freelance basis; (2) systems that ensured that part-time positions stayed within part-time hours; and (3) changes to the work culture to eliminate the stigma of reduced hour schedules.

Only a small portion of respondents had given up work to be stay-at-home mothers. Most were still working in law or related fields. So it isn’t that hard to see what is going on.

The Big Law culture, with its long hours and billable hours, just isn’t so appealing. Women are looking for more control over their projects, their work environment and their schedules.

I have heard from many of you that it is difficult to find qualified lawyers to fill your ranks. But it needn’t be so difficult. Firms that break from the traditional law firm model to develop effective part-time or job sharing opportunities will thrive in this environment. They will not only attract skilled women lawyers, but millennials too, who also tend to value flexibility over compensation. It is a means of building a satisfied group of employees, while potentially controlling costs.

For the full story, I urge you to check out the Orange County Lawyer article: “Survey Results: Why Women Are Really Leaving Firms” at