Op-Ed: Law Schools Can Help Crack the Glass Ceiling

Credit: Salon.com

Written by Aditi Juneja

As many public interest 3Ls interview for post-graduate opportunities and 2Ls interview for internships, there may be one thing we are forgetting: the glass ceiling. Students applying to firms have access to the Chambers Associate Guide to inform them about benefits, vacation time, flexible work arrangements, paid parental leave, retirement plans, and healthcare coverage. The Chambers Guide also provides students applying to firms with statistics regarding diversity, both at the associate and partner level, for women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT people. However, students interested in public interest organizations may have to research this information independently. As a result, a range of information may or not be available to public interest law students depending on the employer. Thus, public interest students don’t have the information necessary to choose internships and jobs with employers where they will be supported and have the greatest chance of advancement.

Of course, the glass ceiling in law firms also continues to be a problem. Although the reasons are unclear, a recent study found that female partners at law firms earn 44% less than male partners. In fact, three black women were so frustrated with the culture at law firms that they banded together (beginning on Twitter) to start their own law firm. But law students choosing the firm route have the information to know which law firms make more or less of an effort to retain lawyers through their benefits policies and which law firms actually promote lawyers who are not straight, white, men.

Law students interested in public interest, who may not find these to be immediate concerns, are often only in a position to learn this information if they ask during the hiring process. Unfortunately, women who “lean in” and negotiate about money often face a backlash for doing so. Women might be equally hesitant to ask about employee benefits. Similarly, a recent study shows that women and minorities who promote other women and minorities receive worse performance reviews by their bosses. It would, therefore, make sense that women and other minorities would be reluctant to ask about diversity numbers during hiring.

Fortunately for us, NYU Law has a wonderful Public Interest Law Center that puts together information about the hiring practices of public interest employers, including information on the experiences of interns and recent graduates employed at those places full time. They also work with the Office of Career Services to bring many public interest employers to NYU for On Campus Interviews and the Public Interest Legal Career Fair. As an institution, NYU Law can go beyond asking the basic questions like starting salary and expected responsibilities of newly hired attorneys and ask public interest employers what benefits they provide and statistics on diversity within the organization. This would allow public interest students to have access to the same information that students applying to firms have, without risking any potential backlash from interviewers for asking the questions.

Public interest students should also be able to assess if an employer has supportive policies and if they are likely to face challenges in advancing within an organization. And, as a highly-ranked law school, NYU has the opportunity to be a leader amongst law schools in asking these questions on behalf of their students.

The current JD student body is diverse: we are fifty percent women, thirty-one percent students of color, and we have a thriving LGBT community. I know that NYU works hard to constantly improve in creating an inclusive environment for its students. Shouldn’t we also work hard to make sure that our students are taking jobs with employers who will support them in achieving their full potential?