Insight

Women First Chairs

Roberta Liebenberg discusses her first-of-its-kind empirical study.

Women First Chairs
RL

Roberta D. Liebenberg

March 31, 2016 12:00 AM

The study I co-authored with Stephanie Scharf, First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table, is a first-of-its-kind empirical examination of the participation of women and men as lead counsel in civil and criminal litigation. Our goal was to understand the extent of the gender gap in the ranks of lead trial lawyers, so that the legal profession will take the necessary steps to effectuate meaningful change.

The conclusions of our study include the following list of suggested best practices for clients, law firms, judges, individual women lawyers, and law schools to help increase the number of women trial lawyers serving in lead counsel positions.

Clients:
• USE YOUR CLOUT. Retain women litigators to be lead trial lawyers in your cases and insist that they be given prominent positions and significant responsibility on your trial teams. Monitor how women lawyers are faring in your outside law firms.
• DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE. Search out the names of women lawyers in trial court opinions issued in the subject areas of importance to your company.
• KEEP TRACK. Build and grow a “go-to” list of women litigators, utilizing recommendations from other in-house counsel—and use it.
• EDUCATE YOUR OUTSIDE COUNSEL. Offer specific training to women trial lawyers in the areas in which the company has a majority of its litigation.

Individual Women Lawyers:
• BE PROACTIVE.
Seek out opportunities to be part of a trial team, and attend trial practice programs.
• SEEK ASSIGNMENT to cases that will allow you to play an active role in the litigation.
• TAKE SMALLER AND PRO BONO CASES that will give you first- chair experience.
• KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON in the courtroom, even under the considerable pressure of a trial.
• GET THE GRIT TOOLKIT. The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s GRIT Toolkit is a valuable training manual for learning the traits essential to becoming a great trial lawyer.

Judges:
• BE MINDFUL.
Judicial appointments of women litigators to lead roles in MDL cases, class actions, and other positions increase their experience, credibility, and visibility, key steps toward reaching equity partnership and developing as rainmakers.
• INCENTIVIZE LAW FIRMS. Allow argument on motions that otherwise would not be heard, as long as the advocate is not the partner, to create courtroom opportunities for women and minority associates.

Law Schools:
• ENCOURAGE WOMEN LAW STUDENTS
to become trial lawyers.
• TRAIN THEM via moot court, legal aid clinics, mentoring, and trial competitions.
• TEACH THEM how to navigate and overcome implicit bias.
• ADVISE THEM to pursue government litigation positions to gain first-chair experience and acquire lead roles sooner.

First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table, by Stephanie A. Scharf and Roberta D. Liebenberg, is a joint project of the American Bar Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, published by the American Bar Association.

Download the full report at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/women.html.

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