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Report finds gender diversity lacking in courts

NYSBA Task Force makes recommendations

The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has issued a report that notes a lack of gender diversity in the court system and includes several recommendations to address the issue.

The NYSBA House of Delegates voted on Saturday to approve the report produced by the Commercial & Federal Litigation Section Task Force on Women’s Initiatives.

The report called “The Time is Now: Achieving Equality for Women Attorneys in the Courtroom and in ADR” is an update to a study issued by the same task force in 2017. According to the new report, despite some minimal gains made by women attorneys over the past three years there is much more work to do to address professional imbalances among the sexes.

“At this crucial moment in our history as a state and a nation, as we struggle to overcome long-standing and deep-seated systemic inequalities, we must recognize that true progress lifts everyone up,” NYSBA President Scott M. Karson. “As a profession, we must, and we will, do better to ensure that all attorneys, regardless of their race, gender, and sexual orientation, have the opportunity to excel and succeed.”

According to the 2017 findings, women accounted for about 24.7% of attorneys in lead counsel roles in New York courtrooms, while those in the public sector fared better than their private sector counterparts.

The 2020 task force members — most of whom also worked on the original study — found that women now comprise 25.3% of attorneys in lead counsel roles, which the task force considers only a minimal improvement, at best.

In addition, while women accounted for only 25.3% of lead counsel roles, they accounted for 36.4 % of additional counsel roles, according to the new report.

The large gap between the public and private sectors that was revealed in the 2017 study has not been closed. In 2020, women made up 35.1% of public sector lead attorneys but just 20.8% of private practice lead attorneys. In 2017, the public sector number was 38.2%, compared to 19.4% in private practice.

One positive note highlighted in the new report: Women are appearing with slightly greater frequency in trial courts. In 2017, women made up 24.7% of appearances in trial courts but now, according to the 2020 report, the figure is 26.3%, which is an increase of nearly 2 percentage points.

However, appellate court appearances for women were nearly unchanged at roughly 25%.

The task force made several recommendations to improve gender equity in the legal profession, including the establishment of programs to support, train and advance female attorneys in private firms with an emphasis on sponsorship.

Also, the new report calls for a continued focus on diversity in outside counsel by in-house corporate legal departments; and ongoing efforts by the judiciary to encourage more women in leadership roles in the courtroom.

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