Law schools have made significant strides in recruiting women and people of color law students and appointing White women and women of color to Deanships. In fact, 35% of law schools are led by women, including half of the top ten schools based on U.S. News and World Report rankings. Among those schools, women of color now represent 10% of law school deans nationally.
As indicated earlier in the report, over 50% of recent graduates of the S.J. Quinney College of Law are women, consistent with national trends. By contrast, only 40% of recent graduates from the J. Reuben Clark Law school are women. These differences are mirrored in the gender composition of the faculty and leadership of Utah’s two law schools.
Faculty & Leadership Gender Composition of Utah Law Schools
Full-time Women Faculty
S.J. Quinney College of Law
|J. Reuben Clark Law School||30%|
Deans & Associate Deans
|S.J. Quinney College of Law||67%|
|J. Reuben Clark Law School||33%|
Despite recent gains, women and students of color continue to face bias and harassment in law school. Recognizing these challenges is important because early experience of bias can influence attitudes toward a career and limit women’s desire to build a career in law. Here we highlight the experience of bias of women lawyers who attended law school in Utah.
During her time at BYU, one early career respondent was subject to pervasive negative judgments of women law students. While her overall experience was positive and she benefited from the mentorship of other women graduates, she recalls hearing men classmates routinely dismiss women’s achievements. She recounted one particular incident:
I remember sitting up in the law review room, editing a paper. There were some guys at the end of the table talking and I could hear them. Internships had just gotten posted. They were mad, “did you see so and so some girl [name] got one of the spots?” They were so mad, “she got one of those spots and now there’s some guy with three kids and a mortgage who won’t have that spot.” They were mad that they had taken these away from men with families and that was unfair and unjust and suggesting maybe they got them because they were women and they were playing a token diversity card.
Several women and mothers reported experiencing harsh judgments of their decision to attend law school by men classmates. Men classmates often expressed judgment that women were “stealing” spots from more deserving men or abandoning their children to attend school.
One later career respondent described some of the challenges she experienced as a mother with young children in law school. She disclosed the following incident:
In law school, I was in my second year studying in my carrel, minding my business. And another student walked up to me and said, “If women like you weren’t here, my friend could be here. Instead he doesn’t have a spot because you took it.” I thought, you’ve said this to the wrong woman. I said, “If your friend had my LSAT scores and my academic record, he wouldn’t have to worry about someone taking his place.”
More recently, her daughter—now an early career attorney—attended the same law school. When a classmate realized that her mother was a very prominent member of Utah’s legal community he said, “Your mother works? She’s evil.”
Another early career respondent excelled at law school even having young children and significant family obligations. She received backlash from classmates, finding notes on her desk that said, “Woman Come Home,” and being asked how she felt about deserting her kids. According to the respondent, “BYU was atrocious. Being in school there was…the harassment and bullying women experience is unbelievable.”
Women of color face a burden of doubt in law school regarding their worthiness to be there. Many were confronted with accusations of “stealing” a spot because their admission was assumed to be based on race, ethnicity or gender.
One later career respondent, a woman of color, described how, despite receiving several merit scholarships due to her outstanding academic record, many students accused her of occupying a space she had not earned. She said:
The assumption was always that I was in law school because I was a minority…It was an inhumanely competitive place… And the men were hanging up pictures of women. I told a professor, “This is offensive to have semi-naked women in our lounge area.” And [the men] got all pissed off at me cause they had to take it down. It was toxic.
The experiences of bias during law school is important because it can shape women’s attitudes toward the profession. Significantly, our respondents include those who have sustained careers in law. Many others may have left law due to signals they received in law school regarding the climate for women in the profession.