August 3, 2017: Gender Disparity in the Courtroom Highlighted in Report by Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of NYS Bar Association

Women attorneys remain considerably underrepresented in courtrooms across the state as well as in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), according to a report issued by the Commercial & Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association. 

The report entitled “If Not Now, When? Achieving Equality for Women Attorneys in the Courtroom and in ADR,” was compiled by the section’s Task Force on Women’s Initiatives. 

It reveals that female attorneys comprise about 25 percent of attorneys in lead counsel roles in courtrooms statewide. The results were strikingly similar in commercial and criminal cases within the private sector. Overall, women attorneys in the public sector, however, fared far better than their counterparts in the private sector. 

“In sum, the low percentage of women attorneys appearing in a speaking role in courts was found at every level and in every type of court: upstate and downstate, federal and state, trial and appellate, criminal and civil, ex parte applications and multi-party matters,” according to the report.

The report is based on the first-ever observational study of women attorneys in the courtroom. The first portion of the study tracked the participation of women as lead counsel and trial attorneys in civil and criminal litigation. Judges were asked to log the gender of all speaking counsel in their courtroom. The other portion of the study asked several ADR providers to provide data regarding the gender of neutrals selected for mediations and arbitrations. 

The study took place from Sept. 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2016. The New York Court of Appeals, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, two of the four federal district courts, all four appellate divisions as well as commercial divisions in supreme courts in counties from Suffolk to Onondaga and Erie participated. Approximately 2,800 questionnaires were completed and returned by judges in participating courts. 

“The results reveal that women remain woefully underrepresented in the courtroom – particularly in the private sector,” said retired U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin of New York City (Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and JAMS). “We hope the report is widely disseminated and studied by lawyers in the public and private sectors, in-house counsel, and members of the judiciary. As our title suggests, the time has come to turn things around. We look forward to seeing a real improvement when we repeat the study in two years.”

In addition to Scheindlin, other task force members are: former Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie H. Cohen of New York City (Morrison & Foerster); Tracee E. Davis of New York City (Zeichner, Ellman & Krause); former State Bar Association President Bernice K. Leber of New York City (Arent Fox); 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 (Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp). All are former chairs of the Commercial & Federal Litigation Section.  

“The section's report is truly a significant step in advancing the discussion about the gender of attorneys appearing in New York courtrooms, the gender of neutrals appointed in ADR matters and toward identifying actionable items to reduce the obstacles confronting women trial lawyers,” said Section Chair Mitchell J. Katz of Syracuse (Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece).  

Mark A. Berman of New York City (Ganfer & Shore) was chair of the section when the study took place and is credited in the report for his leadership and support of the initiative.

The report is available at http://www.nysba.org/WomensTaskForceReport/.

The 72,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.

Contact: Christian Nolan
Senior Writer
cnolan@nysba.org
518-487-5536