Over the past five years, only 16.5% of lead attorney spots have gone to female lawyers in the still largely male-dominated realm of multidistrict litigation (MDLs). In spite of the progress women have made in the law generally, and some growth in MDL leadership positions, female lawyers are still outnumbered 3 to 1 in MDLs by their male counterparts, reports Law360.
According to a study, “Vying for Lead in the ‘Boys’ Club’: Understanding the Gender Gap in Multidistrict Litigation Leadership Appointments,” conducted by Dana Alvaré of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, 98% of all multidistrict litigation contained at least one man in the highest leadership position between 2011 and 2016, with 49.7% of cases having no women whatsoever in high level positions of case leadership. “When broken down into tiered leadership, results show that women were less appointed to top tier, or ‘tier one’ leadership positions,” the study shows.
When it comes to selecting leadership in MDLs, there still appears to be a “boys club” mentality. The tight network of attorneys who end up as repeat players for these high level positions are mostly male, and only 11 out of 50 of the most appointed repeat MDL players are female. This gender inequality is in part the result of cultural, interpersonal, and institutional norms within the industry. However, in recent years, judges have become more aware of this lack of diversity in class action litigation.
“The real leadership is of federal judges in this area – they have the power to appoint leadership, they are the ultimate employer and enforcer,” Lieff Cabraser name partner and cofounder Elizabeth J. Cabraser told Law360. “When federal judges decide that diversity is important, and they have decided that, they can implement it and enforce it.”
When Cabraser began her legal career nearly 40 years ago, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consisted entirely of older white men. “If you look at the panel now, you will see that it is diverse. There are women judges, judges of different ages, it’s geographically diverse,” stated Cabraser. “The judiciary has diversified before the private practice of law did. The quality of our judiciary has improved as a result, and the administration of justice has improved.”
Female attorneys who do go to trial should see other female attorneys like them in the courtroom. Though progress has been made, women still have a long way to go to break the glass ceiling and move past stereotypical gendered beliefs within the legal world. As Cabraser puts it, “Female trial lawyers should be a normal sight, a routine sight, in the courtroom, which is not yet the case.”
“There are as many ways to be a good lawyer as there are lawyers,” she explains. “As more women are out there on the front lines, I think it will be more reassuring to younger attorneys coming up that they too can be a good lawyer and they can do it their own way.”
About Elizabeth Cabraser
A name partner and co-founder of Lieff Cabraser, 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. Today, she serves in court-appointed leadership positions in several of the nation’s highest profile civil cases, including a solo leadership role in the VW “Clean Diesel” Emissions case, as well as lead positions in the GM ignition switch defect and Takata defective airbag cases. In 2017, Benchmark Litigation named Ms. Cabraser its Plaintiff Attorney of the Year.