There is widespread consensus that the legal profession stands at an important inflection point. Traditional models of professional organization, practice, and education are under increasing pressure to adapt to important changes in the environments in which lawyers work. At the same time, these same forces make the profession’s commitment to its traditional ideals of equality and the rule of law more relevant and important than ever.
The current status of women in the legal profession mirrors this complex duality. On the one hand, the number of women entering the profession has increased dramatically in recent decades, and women lawyers can now be found in leadership positions in virtually every major legal institution in the country, including three female justices on the United States Supreme Court. And yet, the percentage of women in these top positions remains far below their representation in the profession, even when adjusted for the fact that women did not begin to enter legal practice in significant numbers until the 1970s. To make matters worse, even women who have achieved important career success appear to be leaving their prestigious positions—and the profession as a whole—in alarming numbers.
It is against this background that we offer this Preliminary Report on The Women and Men of Harvard Law School. The Preliminary Report presents the results of the Harvard Law School Career Study (HLSCS), conducted by the school’s Center on the Legal Profession (CLP). Begun with a generous grant from a visionary group of women alumnae in connection with the 55th celebration of the graduation of the school’s first female students in 1953, the study seeks to deepen the understanding of the career choices made by HLS graduates by providing for the first time systematic empirical information about the career trajectories of graduates from different points in the school’s history. In this Preliminary Report, we offer a first look at the Study’s findings about the salient similarities and differences between the careers of the school’s female and male graduates.
Launched in conjunction with the first Celebration of Black Alumni (CBA) event in 2000, the HLS Black Alumni survey documents the achievements and experiences of the school’s black alumni. The survey asked questions about career trajectories and mobility, employment status, job satisfaction, the impact of race and other demographic characteristics on career paths, and other important professional and individual issues. Over 550 individuals completed the 2000 survey and the Center produced a first-of-its-kind kind Report on the State of Black Alumni. In 2016, the Center produced an update to and extension of this important project with the publication of Harvard Law School: Report on the State of Black Alumni II 2000-2016. The report contains both a comprehensive history section on the state of the black legal profession and, in particular, black HLS graduates between 2000 and 2016 (including a comprehensive timeline of developments across those years) as well as a robust data section on the career-paths of black HLS graduates derived from the 550+ responses to a career survey CLP rolled out in September 2016. The Center launched this important work in June 2017 at its Third Annual Awards Dinner, held at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Run out of the American Bar Foundation (ABF), the After the JD (AJD) project is an empirical study of the career outcomes of a cohort of almost 5,000 new lawyers, offering both a nationally representative picture of lawyer career trajectories and an in-depth portrait of the careers of women and racial and ethnic minority lawyers. The AJD study design is longitudinal, following the careers of new lawyers over the first ten years following law school graduation; the first cohort of lawyers was surveyed in 2002, the second in 2007, and the third in 2010.
More information on the After the JD project is available here.
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