TENSIONS between women working in law firms remains a critical issue, according to a new report in which not one of the legal secretaries surveyed expressed a preference to work for a female partner over a male.
In the survey of 142 legal secretaries at larger law firms, 35 per cent preferred working for male partners, 15 per cent preferred working to male associates, 3 per cent preferred working for female associates and none preferred working for female partners. Forty-seven per cent had no opinion.
The research by Chicago-Kent law professor Felice Batlan involved surveys of legal secretaries from firms with more than 100 lawyers. Ninety-five per cent of the legal secretaries who responded to the online survey were women. Most were middle aged and had considerable experience.
The results have been published in an article in Emrald Insight (purchase required), but Forbes' She Negotiates and the ABA Journal have published the findings.
“Females are harder on their female assistants, more detail oriented, and they have to try harder to prove themselves, so they put that on you. And they are passive aggressive where a guy will just tell you the task and not get emotionally involved and make it personal.”
• “I just feel that men are a little more flexible and less emotional than women. This could be because the female partners feel more pressure to perform.”
• “Female attorneys have a tendency to downgrade a legal secretary.”
• “I am a female legal secretary, but I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass! They are too emotional and demeaning.”
• “Female attorneys are either mean because they're trying to be like their male counterparts or too nice/too emotional because they can't handle the stress. Either way, their attitude/lack of maturity somehow involves you being a punching bag.”
• Women lawyers have “an air about them.”
Batlan writes that some legal secretaries said they don't like working for women because they are too independent. "My partner in particular tends to forget the little things. I often find myself tailing him as he's walking out the door to a meeting going down a list of things he may need. Oddly, I don't feel like my female attorneys need that kind of attention.”
Batlan asks whether legal secretaries’ attitudes toward women lawyers is influenced by societal expectations, the ABA Journal reports.
“For a woman to serve a man is an arrangement that conforms to and reproduces dominant and traditional, although contested and changing, gender arrangements,” she writes. “Gender structures tell men that they are entitled to women's help and that women are supposed to freely give it.”
A blogger for Legal Week magazine writes this week that working as a non-lawyer in a law firm is a thankless, dead-end job, no matter who the person reports to.
"Need I remind you that lawyers are under a lot of pressure, which means they tend to be abrupt and nasty? And let's not forget law is a very snobby profession, so if you're a secretary, the assumption is that your education is limited and that you are just not that smart. It's no joy-ride to serve any lawyer, but are female lawyers worse? I tend to doubt it," writes The Careerist, blogger Vivia Chen.