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The State of Gender Equity in ADR

JAMS ADR Blog by Chris Poole

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, writer Stephanie Coontz assessed the state of gender equity in the legal profession. In The Myth of the Male Decline, Coombs notes that the number of females working in the profession has risen from 14 percent in 1980 to 36 percent today. Though this is some progress, the legal profession is still mainly the province of white males, especially in the upper levels of prestige and income.

What about the tremendous strides women have made in law school enrollment and graduation and other professional areas of traditional male dominance? According to Coontz, progress slowed in the 1990s and “has all but stopped since 2000.” What’s more, the article goes on to note “women seem to need more education simply to counteract the impact of traditional job discrimination.” Other statistics confirm that even when women attain the highest levels of law practice, their income lags behind that of comparable white males.

The ADR profession, of course, does not exist in a bubble. The most highly-paid and well-recognized mediators continue to be predominantly male, middle-aged, and white. Women are catching up, especially in areas viewed as “soft,” such as family law (which can be as demanding and brutal as any other). There is a perception that a female client may feel more comfortable with a female mediator, or that a male client may prefer to have a female mediator when a case involves psychologically sensitive fact patterns, such as employment discrimination. To my knowledge, however, no one ever specifically prefers a qualified female as opposed to male mediator on the basis of gender alone in a tough securities or commercial dispute.

What does this mean for women already in the ADR profession, or for women lawyers thinking about a career in mediation? Here are some words of advice:

You are in charge of the process and it’s up to you to command respect. Yes, you will probably have to work harder and longer than a white male colleague. That’s how it is, at least for now.
Remember that “the law” is whatever the assigned judge says it is as applied to the facts of a particular case on any given day. Learn the fundamentals, but beware of betting your professional reputation on any specific outcome.

Learn all you can from those who have gone before you. Take every opportunity to watch other mediators work, both male and female. Seek mentors and accept their assistance.
Learn to deal with bullies. Bullies are bullies, regardless of gender. You already know this, if you are a practicing female attorney, especially in the combat zone of litigation. Learn to control the situation, maintain your professionalism and dignity, and refuse to be bullied. Insist upon the respect that you deserve.

With more women entering the legal profession, we will hopefully see the percentage of female legal professionals rise swiftly and steadily. In the meantime it is up to those of us currently in the profession to do all that we can to blaze the way, and keep doors open.


Carol Cope

Carol Soret Cope, Esq. has practiced ADR for the past 20 years, successfully mediating hundreds of cases in state and federal courts covering a wide range of disputes.  MORE >

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