As reported recently by the American Bar Association (ABA), in 1971, three years after Congress created the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, women only made up 10 percent of first-year law school students. Over time, that number has been growing; by 2013, women made up 47 percent of law school students.
“It signals a change,” stated Lieff Cabraser founding partner and female MDL leadership veteran Elizabeth J. Cabraser. “It’s a big signal.”
Nonetheless, there is a lack of diversity with regard to the female population both in the courtroom at trial and in MDL leadership positions. This effective marginalization of female attorneys in leadership positions in the competitive legal realm has not gone unnoticed though – both on the plaintiffs and defense side.
According to legal news outlet Law360, “Women remain underrepresented in leadership spots throughout civil litigation because of a convergence of history, industry trends and pragmatic requirements like finances and lengthy victory records that judges must consider.”
In 2013, an ABA study titled “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table,” discovered that women represented 32 percent of lawyers on civil cases, 27 percent at trial, and 24 percent as lead counsel. This is in comparison to 68% of men taking on civil cases, 73% showing up to trial, and 76% being appointed as lead counsel. “What these numbers show is that the steps to the role of lead counsel and trial attorney are much steeper for women than men,” according to the report.
Although the trial bar continues to have a substantial gender gap and gender disparity, women litigators continue to progress through the legal profession and consequently, have begun to break through this glass ceiling by having judges, jurors, and other attorneys hear their voice.
“It’s long been coming,” said Ms. Cabraser. “Judges are leading the way, and they have the power to appoint a leadership structure that reflects the best lawyers and reflects diversity. Those are usually one and the same; diversity in decision-making groups make better results.”
About Elizabeth J. Cabraser
Under Elizabeth Cabraser’s leadership, Lieff Cabraser has become one of the country’s largest law firms serving clients seeking redress for financial and consumer fraud, anti-competitive practices, harmful drugs and products, and illegal employment practices. For over three decades, Ms. Cabraser has made sure that our firm remains dedicated to its core values.
A name partner and co-founder of Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Ms. Cabraser chairs the firm’s personal injury and environmental litigation practice groups. One of the nation’s leading class action litigators and possessing unparalleled expertise in complex civil litigation, she has served as court-appointed lead, co-lead, or class counsel in scores of federal multi-district and state coordinated proceedings. These cases include multi-state tobacco, the Exxon Valdez disaster, Breast Implants, Fen-Phen (Diet Drugs), Vioxx, Toyota sudden acceleration, numerous securities/investment fraud cases, and Holocaust litigation.
Today, she serves in court-appointed leadership positions in several of the nation’s highest profile civil cases, such as VW “Clean Diesel” Emissions case, GM ignition switch defect, and Takata defective airbag litigation.