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Women with Male Names Fare Better in the Legal Industry

By November 11, 2009

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The legal industry has long been dominated by men and, despite a recent influx of women to the law field, a new study seems to confirm that "the good old boy network" is alive and well.

The study, led by economist Bentley Coffey of Clemson University in South Carolina, examined the relationship between a person's success in the legal profession and the masculinity of their name. Women lawyers with masculine-sounding first names have better odds of becoming a judge than their counterparts with feminine names, the study found. For example, a female "Cameron" is about three times more likely to become a judge than a "Sue," while a female "Bruce" is five times more likely. Jurists, clients, superiors, professors, legislators, might just feel more comfortable with a woman called "George" than one called "Barbara," the study noted.

"Despite the fact that women made up half of the students graduating from law school in the past 15 years, the legal profession remains a male-dominated world," Coffey wrote. "Consequentially, one would suspect that having a male persona or male moniker might still be advantageous to a career in law."

Coffey and his team used data from the voting population of South Carolina state to test the so-called "Portia Hypothesis." The thesis is named after Shakespeare's play, "The Merchant of Venice," in which the heiress Portia masquerades as a male lawyer to argue before a judge the case of her husband's friend Antonio, saving him for the moneylender Shylock, the NY Daily News reports.

"When we see a masculine name, something in our subconscious is cued. There seems to be a subtle sexist notion, even if it's not gender discrimination per se," Coffey told the Vancouver Sun.

November 18, 2009 at 5:44 pm
(1) Tia Hudson says:

Wish you wouldn’t use the term “Legal Industry” or “Legal Profession” when you are talking only about lawyers. A large number of people who work in the “Legal Industry” are not attorneys, and most of those are women.

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