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The verdict is in: female attorneys consistently earn less than their male counterparts in Arkansas.

A prominent attorney with a Little Rock firm is said to have referred repeatedly to his female clerk as "little lady."

The clerks says she asked the attorney to call her by her name, but he ignored the requests.

Is that discrimination?

The attorney denies having said it.

And the clerk won't allow her name to be used.

But a recent survey seems to indicate the old-boy network is still alive in Arkansas legal circles.

The survey, published in the January issue of The Arkansas Lawyer, showed that female attorneys in the state consistently earned less money than their male counterparts.

But the findings in other areas were not conclusive.

"It's difficult to draw a blanket conclusion that applies to every woman in every case," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilson Cherry, one of three co-chairs of the Arkansas Bar Association's Committee on Opportunities for Women & Minorities in the Legal Profession. "The barriers that remain have to do more with the relationship of lawyers to each other."

The committee and the survey grew out of an American Bar Association committee chaired by Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a partner in Little Rock's Rose Law Firm. Her national committee's work spawned surveys and committees in more than 25 states.

"I questioned whether such an effort was necessary," Cherry says. "I felt ... women had moved beyond those barriers."

But her eyes were opened once the Arkansas survey was conducted.

The Old-Boy Network

The return rate for the Arkansas survey was 74.4 percent. There were 467 responses from female attorneys and 607 responses from male attorneys.

Ninety-six percent of the female respondents and 63 percent of the male respondents believed the old-boy network still exists.

Eighty-one percent of the males admitted the network works to their advantage. When it comes to management functions, for instance, men remain fully in charge. Women were 16 percentage points behind men in determining which clients will be accepted and who will handle cases. Females made hiring decisions 17 percent less often than males, and they set rates 21 percent less often.

Sixty-five percent of the females surveyed said male attorneys tend to attain more respect and a higher status than female attorneys. Forty-one percent of the males agreed.

Although the number of females entering the legal profession is growing -- more than half of the state's first-year law students are women -- are the conditions they work under improving?

Consider this finding: Of the full-time attorneys with up to four years of experience, 38 percent of the males earned more than $40,000, compared with 16 percent of the females.

Of attorneys with 15 to 19 years of experience, 81 percent of the males earned more than $40,000, compared with 46 percent of the females.

The least amount of difference was among attorneys who had practiced five to nine years. Among that group, 62 percent of male attorneys earned more than $40,000 annually, compared with 48 percent of female lawyers.

Male and female attorneys worked about the same number of hours per week. Yet the hourly rate for males averaged $97.60, compared with $89.83 for females.

Mom Vs. Attorney

Females reported that their roles at home affect their work.

Among males, 60 percent said they shared less than half of the household duties with their working wives.

Also, 58 percent of the females said they had primary responsibility for rearing children. Fifty-seven percent of the males said they shared that responsibility with their wives.

Little Rock attorney Pamela Walker knows about sacrifices.

"I didn't take off to have a family," she says.

Walker believes that until society changes -- until women get paid as much as men and there is a more equal distribution of work at home -- many women will have to make that choice between career and family.

Walker says she even faces discrimination from male judges.

"They're the worst," she says. "What's so bad is that sometimes it works to my advantage."

According to Walker, some older male judges are more polite to her than to male attorneys. Still, there is always the fear that judges won't take her seriously.

She claims that a judge once asked, "Who is it that keeps bringing this beautiful woman into my courtroom?"

Sandy Moll is an assistant attorney general and president of the Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers.

Moll says working at the attorney general's office has been a pleasure, but she has experienced disparaging comments from others in the legal community.

"It isn't a willful thing," she says. "They don't understand necessarily that it's a put-down ... The more difficult issue is what is referred to as the glass ceiling."

That is the level above which female attorneys cannot rise, regardless of their abilities.

However, some female attorneys don't view their gender as an issue.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't stopped to think about it," says Meredith Catlett, a partner at the Friday Eldredge & Clark firm in Little Rock. "... I just don't dwell on it."

Although most female attorneys don't choose to dwell on it, they can't help being confronted with it.

The legal clerk who claims she was referred to as "little lady" says she asked a partner at the firm what her chances of being hired as an attorney there would have been.

She says the attorney told her the chances weren't high because "you're a |University of Arkansas at Little Rock~ graduate ... and you're a woman."

Even though the survey shows there are problems for women in the Arkansas legal community, no action will be taken until a review is completed in June.

Even then, specific actions might not be taken, Cherry says.

"The objective is simply to enlighten the bar," she says. "The corrective measures will have to be taken by each individual member."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 16, 1992
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