Women icon  Demographics

The percentage of female lawyers has slowly inched up in recent years, according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, a tally of lawyers by licensing agencies in every state. In 2010, fewer than one-third of all lawyers (31%) were women. Thirteen years later, in 2023, 39% of all lawyers were women.

The long-term trend is easier to see when viewed over the course of decades. The biggest growth in female lawyers came in the 1980s and ’90s. From 1950 to 1970, only 3% of all lawyers were women. The percentage increased to 8% in 1980, 20% in 1991 and 29% in 2000.  

The trend is also apparent at law schools. The number of male students has declined every year for the past 12 years – from 78,516 in 2010 to 50,969 in 2022. Meanwhile, the number of female law school students has increased every year for the past six years – from 55,766 in 2016 to 65,073 in 2022. Women now significantly outnumber men in U.S. law schools, and the gap is widening. In 2022, there were 14,000 more female students than male students.

The number of female federal judges has increased dramatically. The first woman was appointed to the federal judiciary in 1928, when 217 men held that position. By 1950, there were still only three female federal judges. That rose to 46 in 1980. And by Oct. 1, 2023, there were 455 women on the federal bench – nearly one-third of all federal judges (32%).

The picture is somewhat different in state Supreme Courts, where 42% of all high-court justices are women, according to a 2023 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. That’s nearly the same as the share of all lawyers who are women nationally: 39%. 


Sources: ABA National Lawyer Population Survey; American Bar Foundation Lawyer Statistical Reports; Federal Judicial Center; Brennan Center for Justice
Women icon  Women in law firms

Although more than half of all law school graduates are women, the number of women in senior leadership roles at U.S. law firms is far less than half – even with the number slowly edging up in recent years. 

About 22% of all equity partners were female in 2020, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers. The number has risen every year since 2012, when it was 15%. Female lawyers are found in greater numbers at lower levels in the law firm hierarchy. Nearly half of all associates (47%) were women in 2020, as were nearly a third of all nonequity partners (32%).

Women also held only a small percentage of law firm leadership jobs in 2020. They were 12% of managing partners, 28% of governance committee members and 27% of practice group leaders, according to the NAWL.

Law firm pay for women almost caught up to pay for men among associates and nonequity partners in 2020, but a sizable gap still existed at the highest levels. In 2020, female associates and female nonequity partners received, on average, 95% of the compensation of their male counterparts. But among equity partners, women received just 78% of the compensation of men, on average.

There were virtually no women among the very highest-compensated law firm attorneys in 2020. Only 2% of law firms said their highest-paid attorney is female – and that number actually dropped from 8% in 2005. 


Women icon  Women in law schools


Women make up a majority of law school students in the United States: 55.7% in 2022. That’s up from 48.4% in 2000. 

Women achieved majority status in ABA-accredited law schools only recently. The first time first-year female students outnumbered first-year male students was in 2014. Two years later, in 2016, women made up a majority of all students in law schools for the first time.

Here’s another way of looking at the gender trend in law schools: In 2022, nearly five times as many law schools had female majorities (162 law schools) versus those with male majorities (33 law schools). And at five law schools in 2022 (Northeastern, North Carolina Central, Howard, Florida A&M and American), women outnumbered men by a 2-to-1 ratio.

The change came slowly over several decades. In 1963, only 4% of first-year law students were female, rising to 20% in 1973, 39% in 1983 and 44% by 1993.

More women than ever are also leading U.S. law schools. In 2000, only

10% of law school deans were women. By 2009, the percentage of female

deans rose to 21%, and as of Oct. 3, 2023, 43% of all law school deans were women, according to Rosenblatt’s Deans Database at the Mississippi College School of Law.



• 877 – Number of women enrolled as first-year law students in 1964


• 21,961 – Number of women enrolled as first-year law students in 2022


• 1951 – Year that Miriam Theresa Rooney became the first female dean of an ABA-approved law school, Seton Hall Law School.
Women icon  Walking Out the Door

Male and female lawyers strongly disagree on how well their law firms foster long-term careers for women. That is one conclusion from a 2019 study by the ABA and ALM Intelligence, which explored why experienced female lawyers leave law firms. The report, “Walking Out the Door,” includes results from a survey of more than 1,200 senior lawyers at the nation’s biggest private law firms.

Generally, men thought their law firms treated women fairly, but women disagreed. For example, the vast majority of men (88%) said gender diversity is widely acknowledged as a firm priority. Barely half of women (54%) agreed. Also, nearly 3 out of 4 men (74%) said their law firms successfully retained experienced women. Less than half of women (47%) agreed.


• 63% of female lawyers said they had been perceived as less committed to their careers than men.


• 75% of female lawyers said they experienced demeaning comments, stories or jokes.

Female lawyers also reported significantly less job satisfaction than men in several important areas. For example, 71% of men said they were satisfied with the recognition they received at work, but only 50% of women said the same. Likewise, 62% of men said they were satisfied with opportunities for advancement at their law firms, but only 45% of women felt the same. 

The survey also revealed that half of all female lawyers (50%) said they experienced unwanted sexual conduct at work, and 1 in 4 women said they avoided reporting sexual harassment due to fear of retaliation. One in six female lawyers (16%) said they lost work opportunities as a result of rebuffing sexual advances.

Finally, the women surveyed said caretaking commitments are the No. 1 reason (58%) why experienced female lawyers leave their law firms, followed by stress at work (54%) and emphasis on marketing or originating business (51%). 

Download the ABA Profile of the Legal Profession in .pdf format