American Bar Association Adopts State Bar Report on Gender Disparity in the Courtroom
The American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates Monday unanimously approved a resolution affirming that women attorneys remain considerably underrepresented in courtrooms and in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and outlined steps that can be taken by the judiciary, law firms, clients and ADR providers to address this disparity.
The measure is based on a New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) report entitled If Not Now, When? Achieving Equality for Women Attorneys in the Courtroom and in ADR, and was presented to the ABA by NYSBA President Sharon Stern Gerstman.
The report was compiled by the NYSBA Commercial & Federal Litigation Section’s Task Force on Women’s Initiatives, and was approved by NYSBA’s House of Delegates in November 2017. It encourages law firms, members of the judiciary, corporate clients, and alternative dispute resolution providers to provide women lawyers with opportunities to gain trial experience, participate in the courtroom and all aspects of litigation, and be selected as neutrals in ADR.
The ABA action was part of its Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“The approval by the ABA of this groundbreaking report underscores the importance of ensuring that women and diverse voices are empowered and able to play an active role throughout the judicial and dispute resolution process,” Gerstman said. “This is an issue of fundamental fairness and justice, and with agreement regarding the scope of the problem, we can now work together most effectively to address it.”
Gerstman noted that the ABA measure approved on Monday suggests specific actions, including encouraging judges to ensure that women lawyers have equal opportunities to participate in the courtroom, calling on corporate clients to work with outside counsel to facilitate the participation of women attorneys in all aspects of litigation and calling on corporate counsel to work with ADR providers to encourage the selection of women attorneys as neutrals.
The report is based on the first-ever observational study of women attorneys in the courtroom. It reveals that female attorneys comprise about 25 percent of attorneys in lead counsel roles in courtrooms statewide.
The study took place from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2016. Approximately 2,800 questionnaires were completed and returned by judges in participating courts, including the New York Court of Appeals, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, two of the four federal district courts, all four appellate divisions, and commercial divisions in supreme courts in counties from Suffolk to Onondaga and Erie. Three of the leading ADR providers in the state also participated.
The NYSBA Task Force on Women’s Initiatives is co-chaired by NYSBA Past President Bernice K. Leber of New York City (Arent Fox), retired U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin of New York City (Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and JAMS); former Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie H. Cohen of New York City (Morrison & Foerster); Tracee E. Davis of New York City (Zeichner, Ellman & Krause); Sharon M. Porcellio of Buffalo (Bond, Schoeneck & King); Lesley F. Rosenthal of New York City (Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts); and Lauren J. Wachtler of New York City (Phillips Nizer LLP). All are former chairs of NYSBA’s Commercial & Federal Litigation Section.