Why Are Women Lawyers Leaving the Legal Industry?

March 9, 2022

Lack of promotion opportunities, the pressure to meet billable targets, preservation of mental health, discrimination and a culture of fear and retaliation, lack of mentorship, unequal pay, as well as isolation, long billing hours and unpredictable schedules are all being cited as reasons why women are leaving the law as we conduct research for our Women Leaving Law survey.

Although there are currently more women than men attending law school and our research regarding entry-level hiring shows women are outpacing men in joining top law firms, it appears that as they progress in their legal careers, many of them leave their firms, don’t make partner, grow disillusioned with the industry for the reasons cited above and leave the practice of law.

So where are women going, and what’s preventing them from reaching partnership?

Of the over 8000 women lawyer departures in 2021, our research shows that a large number have not returned to a firm or company we cover. Women aren’t leaving their firms to go to another firm or to another role in the legal industry. A number of them left the industry completely.

One woman told us, “I felt I owed it to myself and my health to take a break. It was the best decision that I could have made for my mental health. Financially, I will need to return to practice at some point this year.” She’s not alone.

During the pandemic, many women lawyers have struggled while trying to juggle work and family, leading them to consider stepping back or leaving the field entirely. It’s clear that women still face systemic barriers in the legal profession and that many law firms are falling short when it comes to supporting their female lawyers with children. Law firms need to recognize the value that female lawyers can bring to their business and invest in them accordingly.

Some are calling it the “she-cession” is occurring in the legal industry – where 25% of women “are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable [before the onset of the pandemic]: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely.” And for women with children, that number is one in three. The McKinsey/LeanIn 2020 report on women in the workplace reports women could be set back by half a decade, resulting in “far fewer women in leadership—and far fewer women on track to be future leaders. All the progress we’ve seen over the past six years could be erased.”

In collaboration with ARK Group, Leopard Solutions is conducting a survey to identify the ways in which shifts in the legal profession – particularly over the past couple of years – are impacting women lawyers and their career paths.

Designed to gather information on the experiences of women lawyers who left Big Law firms, this voluntary and anonymous survey aims to offer insight into key challenge areas, and through the distribution of that information, improve how the industry supports female lawyers. We are seeking to identify what factors or experiences led them to consider leaving the field and what changes would encourage them to stay in the profession.

Share your experience here by taking the Women Leaving Law survey.