By Claire Zillman
February 1, 2017

The legal resistance to President Donald Trump’s immigrant ban appears to be largely female.

A week after millions of women took to the streets to protest Trump’s misogyny, the swarms of lawyers offering free legal services to immigrants caught up in Trump’s new policy are skewing noticeably female. Then there are the four female judges who blocked parts of Trump’s executive order, not to mention Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, whom Trump fired after she ordered the Justice Department to not defend his measure in court.

Justice is blind and should be gender neutral, but the optics of female lawyers standing at the forefront of the legal pushback against Trump’s ban is noteworthy since Trump’s rhetoric has insulted and sought to marginalize women. Plus, like so many other industries, the legal sector has struggled mightily to get women into its most visible and highest-paying positions.

The fact that four female judges—Ann Donnelly in New York, Leonie Brinkema in Eastern Virginia, and Allison Burroughs and Judith Dein in Boston—issued temporary stays of Trump’s ban is somewhat remarkable considering that of active U.S. district court judges, more than two-thirds are men, according to data from 2014.

At the same time, part of this phenomenon should not come as a surprise; from the moment they start their legal careers, women are more likely to pursue public interest. Stats from the National Association for Law Placement show that in 2015, 9.1% of female law school graduates accepted public interest legal jobs, compared to 5.1% of their male counterparts. In 2014, 60% of all public interest positions belonged to women, even as women accounted for only 47% of law school grads. Women are also more likely to take judicial clerkships and legal jobs in education and the government, according to NALP. Even female lawyers who pursue careers in private practice generally accumulate more pro bono hours annually—14 versus 13 at the nation’s highest-grossing law firms. In the next tier of law firms, the gap is a bit larger—12.2 hours annually for women, compared to 9.4 for men.

NALP research director Judy Collins told me this gender gap in legal employment used to be even more lopsided. In recent years, however, more female law graduates have pursued corporate legal jobs, yet their penchant for public interest work remains, and the chaos created by Trump’s ban means it’s being put to use in a noticeable and meaningful way.



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