Fifteen years in off-and-on preparation, CUNY sociologist Epstein's exhaustive study of women lawyers fulfills its aim of...



Fifteen years in off-and-on preparation, CUNY sociologist Epstein's exhaustive study of women lawyers fulfills its aim of showing ""how women have succeeded in making their way into the legal profession. . . and how their presence has brought change to them and to the profession as a whole."" Some changes are obvious: there are more women lawyers than ever, a fivefold increase in the past decade alone; the number of women at major Wall Street firms has grown even more dramatically in the same period; women now represent one-third of all law students; and the feminist movement has created a new (albeit small) branch of the profession. While acknowledging these recent advances, Epstein focuses on the less obvious changes--in male attorneys' stereotypes of their female counterparts, in women attorneys' attitudes about their roles--and on the paradoxical ""prevalence of old patterns"" amid superficial, radical change. The feminist movement notwithstanding, women still gravitate in disproportionate numbers to trusts and estate, matrimonial work, and government agencies--fields traditionally viewed as ""women's work."" On Wall Street, though women are forcing a path into litigation and general corporate practice, Epstein finds that ""traditional pressures. . . push them toward backroom tasks."" The old-fashioned male stereotype of women lawyers (not committed to a career, unwilling to work long hours, unsuited for client contact) produces a vicious circle: women are assigned to less demanding areas of practice, then condemned for lacking ambition. Although old views are changing, Epstein emphasizes that whether women ""make it"" in major law firms still depends on their adaptation to an existing (male) system; they still must combat sex-typing and prove their ability to ""fit in"" socially (one no-win syndrome: women lawyers are damned either for being too assertive or for not being tough enough). Specialized feminist practices bring their own problems, including ideology vs. financial reality (should we represent men?), and avoiding an inundation of matrimonial work. And, for all women lawyers, there are additional personal balancing acts--spouses, lovers, children. Illuminating on both the professional and personal sides of women lawyers' lives, scholarly without jargon and feminist without rhetoric, this book is likely to be the standard work on the topic for some time.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981