In recent years, the legal profession has undergone significant organizational restructuring with the dramatic growth of firms and a rapid increase in the number of female lawyers. We argue that big firms actively recruited female lawyers during a period when women were needed to fill roles of cultivating and serving increasing numbers of institutional or corporate clients. Yet despite women's contribution of legal talent to the development of clientele, a glass ceiling has restricted their opportunities to advance in law firm hierarchies. We examine two approaches to gender inequities in law firm hierarchy: disparity as economic efficiency and disparity as structural discrimination. Both approaches neglect aspects of social relations within law firms as well as social resources lawyers bring to their work. We therefore introduce a social capital perspective to unpack how human capital is enhanced and how exclusionary practices are reinforced in law firms. Using a longitudinal study of male and female lawyers conducted from 1990 to 1996, we specify several different forms of social capital. The findings from our study reveal that female lawyers participate fully in the accumulation of social capital in law firms, through service to valued institutional clientele and high billings, yet their efforts result in reduced probabilities of partnership.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science