21st February 2024

Midyear Meeting

These 10 principles will advance gender equity in criminal legal profession, ABA House says

Equality between male and female attorneys

Image from Shutterstock.

The House of Delegates addressed the deep-rooted differences between male and female attorneys in the criminal legal profession at the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans on Monday.

Resolution 501 adopts the Ten Principles to Achieve Gender Equity in the Criminal Legal Profession. The Criminal Justice Section’s Women in Criminal Justice Task Force recently published these principles after a yearslong investigation into barriers to hiring, promoting and retaining women in criminal law. According to the Criminal Justice Section, the task force based the principles on research and testimonies of female criminal lawyers who provided feedback through listening sessions, surveys and focus groups between 2018 and 2021.

Carla Laroche, a co-chair of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force, spoke in favor of the resolution. She shared the testimony of Andrea George, the executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, who spoke to the task force during a listening session in Spokane, Washington.

“Practicing criminal law as a woman is like playing tackle football in a dress,” said Laroche, an associate clinical professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law. “Let that sink in.”

Maryam Ahranjani, another member of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force, agreed it was vital to hear and learn from the lived experiences of female criminal lawyers while creating the 10 principles. She described them as “the embodiment of the voices and work in which we have engaged.”

Ahranjani also shared with the House the story of a woman who had been practicing for 35 years and said she felt she had been “sprinting a marathon.” She asked the task force how she could keep at it.

“Our section’s answer to her, to all who testified before the task force and to anyone who feels the same way, is this resolution,” said Ahranjani, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Midyear Meeting here.

The Women in Criminal Justice Task Force lists the following as its 10 principles:

    • Create “culture change” by removing barriers to hiring, retaining and promoting female attorneys in the criminal legal profession.

    • Acknowledge and address the intersectional challenges faced by women who identify with other groups that have been historically underrepresented or denied opportunities.

    • Implement training on diversity, equity and inclusion; anti-racism; bias; and trauma-informed lawyering.

    • Create transparent and equal recruitment, promotion and retention policies and connect attorneys to professional development opportunities.

    • Implement policies and resources to address the “flexibility stigma” that often relates to motherhood, reproductive health care and other gender-related planning and decision-making.

    • Provide mentorship, allyship and sponsorship programs and practices to increase women’s advancement opportunities.

    • Offer counseling, therapy and other support to attorneys who encounter trauma and secondary trauma.

    • Provide private spaces and time for lactation, rest and wellness.

    • Recognize many women balance caretaking responsibilities with criminal legal careers, and improve access to high-quality, affordable care for children and other dependents.

    • Implement continual, data-driven evaluations and incorporate feedback from employees to help eliminate gender bias.

While the Criminal Justice Section works on many important projects, its chair, Justin Bingham, told the House none has been as consequential in recent history as this measure.

“The 10 principles in this resolution seek to provide a road map moving forward for a more inclusive, welcoming and fair criminal legal profession,” Bingham said.

Resolution 501 passed overwhelmingly. CJS plans to share the task force’s report with state bar and specialty bar associations, practitioners and other institutions and encourage them to enact the 10 principles.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “What does it take to retain female lawyers in criminal justice? ABA task force has some ideas”