Buffalo Law Review

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There is a downside to public interest law careers and law school pro bono work for women. Law schools cue women to enter and remain at lower rungs of the profession by normalizing women in “caregiving” roles and locking predominantly female clinicians who do public interest work into a lower level status. The ABA contributes to this structural devaluation by ignoring female public interest lawyers. When combined with the culture of public interest organizations, these factors contribute to women’s stagnant progress in the legal profession.

This Article is the first to address this issue comprehensively. It describes the challenges women face in public interest careers including: 1) the indoctrination to be exclusively “client focused”; 2) the failure of public interest organizations to address gender segregation; and 3) the barriers to self-advocacy in organizations that are perpetually underfunded. Given men’s socialization to be “breadwinners,” these cultural factors in public interest law harm women more than men. In addition, the perpetual absence of data regarding women in public interest law stands in sharp contrast to the ABA’s continued focus on women in private practice. This sends the message that public interest law is unimportant and keeps women who work in public interest invisible, hampering the ability to address the gender segregation in the field.

This Article builds a framework for addressing this problem. It urges law schools to eliminate the gendered hierarchy that keeps public interest lawyers on the bottom and limit the number of pro bono hours students can work. It urges the ABA to collect and publish data on female public interest attorneys. And it urges public interest organizations to encourage women to think intentionally about their careers.