How Can We Increase the Number of Women Lawyers Who Are Board Certified?
The Florida Bar confirms that a significant gender gap exists in the number of board certified lawyers in Palm Beach County and statewide. In Palm Beach County, women comprise only 17% of board certified lawyers. Throughout Florida, women comprise 21% of board certified lawyers. So how can we increase the number of women lawyers who are board certified and narrow this significant gender gap?
First, we need to promote more awareness of The Florida Bar’s board certification program, speak openly about the gender gap, and actively recruit women to apply for board certification. Second, we need to host more seminars and programs that educate women lawyers on the benefits of board certification and its criteria. Third, we need to provide more mentoring to female lawyers who may qualify for board certification, but could also benefit from the guidance of a lawyer who already has gone through the application process and passed the exam.
Ways to Increase the Number of Women Lawyers Who are Board Certified
A. Promoting Awareness of the Board Certification Program, Speaking Openly
About the Gender Gap, and Actively Recruiting Women to Apply
The Florida Bar’s Board Certification program began in 1982 and remains one of the most objective ways to validate a lawyer’s competency and professionalism. The board certification program currently includes 25 substantive areas of certification and only 5% of the lawyers statewide are board certified. Because it is difficult to attain, the achievement of board certification is widely recognized as a significant, prestigious accomplishment.
In Palm Beach County, which now has over 7,300 lawyers, only 105 women are board certified. On a percentage basis, the men-to-women ratio across all areas of board certification is 83/17, even though for years women have been entering the legal profession at the same rate as men. The attrition rate for women who remain practicing law, however, is higher than men.
When it comes to recruiting more women to apply, the goal is to educate women lawyers about the criteria for certification several years in advance so they can plan to meet the criteria down the line. In the litigation areas, for example, it is difficult to say “I’m going to get all my trials this year.” In reality, it often takes a few years of planning and availing oneself of opportunities to meet the trial requirements, including seeking out opportunities to co-counsel cases, broadening case selection, or accepting pro bono cases.
B. Hosting Educational Seminars and Programs to Promote Board Certification
Creating an educational foundation that promotes board certification in a consistent manner is critical to encourage more women to apply. This educational foundation consists of hosting a series of seminars and programs designed to teach women lawyers about the different facets of board certification, including the application process, peer review, continuing legal education, securing final matter credits, and exam preparation.
C. Pairing Applicants with Mentors
A key way to assist more women in becoming board certified is to pair them with someone who has “already walked the woods.” Board certification poses a variety of challenges. Having a mentor who already has gone through the process successfully can make a huge difference for an applicant to become board certified.
Having a mentor carries with it several benefits. A mentor can help with exam preparation especially if there is no exam-preparation course or study materials designed for the specific area of certification. Second, there are certain tricks of the trade that an applicant may learn about the application process; for example, The Florida Bar often will give double or triple CLE credit for writing an article or lecturing compared with mere attendance at a seminar. Third, an applicant may learn certain specific areas on which to focus her study time and techniques for answering essay questions. Fourth, there is a psychological benefit to having a mentor who can guide an applicant during the challenging process of balancing work, studying, and family life.
The large board-certification gender gap presents some unique challenges and questions. We can, however, encourage more women lawyers to apply for board certification by creating awareness as to its value, promoting early planning to meet the criteria, and offering educational programs and mentoring opportunities. By becoming more proactive, we can succeed in increasing the number of women lawyers who become board certified and help narrow the gap.
Adam Rabin is Florida Bar Board Certified in Business Litigation and is a past president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and past co-chair of the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion. Adrienne Rabinowitz is an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
If you are interested in participating in the Board Certification Boot Camp program offered by PBC FAWL, e-mail the program co-chairs, Adam and Adrienne, at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.