ISSN 1062-7421
Vol. 12 No. 5 (May 2002) pp. 250-252.

GENDER IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION: FITTING OR BREAKING THE MOULD by Joan Brockman. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2001. 272pp. Cloth $85.00. ISBN: 0-7748 0834-9. Paper $29.95. ISBN: 0-7748-0835-7.

Reviewed by Adelaide H. Villmoare, Department of Political Science, Vassar College.

GENDER IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION, by law professor Joan Brockman from the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, inaugurates a Law and
Society Series from UBC Press. Brockman acknowledges that she has long "struggled to integrate the disciplines of law and sociology" (p. xi), and her work is a testament to that struggle and to women lawyers' struggle for equality in Canada. She argues that gender discrimination continues not by excluding women but by "discouraging or preventing their full participation within the profession" (p. 11). A thoughtful addition to feminist literature on women lawyers (e.g. Harrington 1994, Hagan and Kay 1995, Rhode 1994), this book proposes no original hypotheses. However, it does offer a wealth of fascinating observations from the subjects of her research.

A sociological study of gendered dimensions of the legal profession in British Columbia, the book is based largely on interviews of 100 young women and men attorneys conducted from 1993-94. Indeed, this research is distinguished from other work on gender and the legal profession in Canada (e.g. Kay 1991, Wilson 1993) by virtue of the in-depth and open-ended nature of the interviews (p. xi). Brockman focused her questions on four areas around which the text is organized: 1) "career advancement," 2) conciliatory-adversarial approaches to practicing law, 3) "gender bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment," and 4) the" balancing of careers, children, and chores" (p. 14). The lawyers' responses bring the topics to life throughout the book. Certain chapters would be quite wonderful for classroom use when placed into a larger context of issues of professions in contemporary times or women's inequality or subordination. Brockman's respect for those she interviews shines through, and the experiences they share with her are well worth listening to.

The voices draw one in. In a chapter on "Law's Attractions and Detractions" one woman says, "It was important to me to be something ... so that people acknowledged I was smart ... I wanted to do something that women didn't usually do." Following this and other comments on reasons for attending law school, Brockman observes that, "three women went to law school because they equated knowledge with power, although none of the men mentioned similar reasons" (p. 26). At that moment, I find my thoughts wandering off into Foucault and feminist writings on the gendered construction of law and legal knowledge. However, Brockman does not veer off into such terrain. For better and worse, she sticks with her question of what brings people to the legal profession. Instead of theoretical

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contemplation, she moves briskly along to describe additional ways women and men come to the law. The result is a tightly organized chapter that teases one with insights that are not often pursued. I hear the voices but wish there were more theoretical musings about them.

Brockman shows discrimination to be thriving in a profession where it should be greatly diminished or have disappeared altogether. Her respondents experience and observe discrimination largely along gender lines; 60 percent of the women and 4 percent of the men state that they have been discriminated against on the basis of sex (p. 70). Yet, they do virtually nothing about it (p. 86). I ask: "If lawyers do nothing about discrimination against themselves in 1993, where does that leave the rest of us, particularly nonprofessionals?" My intemperate thoughts are out of place here; neither the question nor its tone fits within the flow of the discussion. Further descriptions of discrimination and sexual harassment follow.

Brockman finds few gender distinctions among women and men in terms of their adversarial/conciliatory approaches to law. Most men and women "would start at the conciliatory end of the [adversary/conciliatory] continuum" (p. 131). She raises an interesting question within this context: "Why are women, as conciliatory deal makers, not encouraged, rather than discouraged, from practicing business law?" I would like to hear more than "Obviously, other factors operate when some doors are open and others closed to women practitioners" (p. 177). She describes elsewhere in the book some of those factors, but lacking is a probing analysis of those doors.

A final section of the book provides further testimony about gendered inequality in the burdens home and children place on women; the burdens reverberate throughout the legal profession. The stories told are painfully familiar; there is power in the retelling, however. When women continue to be responsible for full time work in the marketplace and the home, there is little chance of equality in the profession that should be striving honorably to eradicate inequality One could argue that the legal profession should not be held accountable for situations beyond its immediate control, but, as Brockman notes, "Women, who carry an excessive burden of child care and household chores, cannot compete in a work world that demands excessively long hours" (p. 195). The legal profession, she goes on to argue, must change its structure, must break its mould.

Drawing on work by Joan Williams (2000) and Arlie Hochschild (1997), Brockman advocates restructuring the gendered inequality of work at home and the office. She suggests, not unreasonably, that the most effective response to this inequality might be found in economics since that "seems to be the driving force for so many ... lawyers" (p. 214). Work at home and in the marketplace must be reconstituted to leave behind a few "hogging the work" (p. 214) to sharing the paid and unpaid labor. The proposals resonate with recent feminist positions, particularly that of Mona Harrington (1994, 1999), who has done her own series of in-depth interviews of women law school graduates and who has argued for a "new family politics" wedded to gender equality.

Thick with vivid description that supports much research on gender and the legal profession in Canada and the U. S., this

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book does not quite come together into a driving analysis. Although Brockman alludes to a wide range of literature, the discussion has little theoretical grounding in feminist (or other) legal or social theory that would provide it with a greater coherence and impact. There is a political punch here, but not as great as one suspects that Brockman would like. Making more and more profound connections with others' political and theoretical stances could give it that punch.


Hagan, John and Fiona Kay. 1995. GENDER IN PRACTICE: A STUDY OF LAWYERS' LIVES. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harrington, Mona. 1999. CARE AND EQUALITY: INVENTING A NEW FAMILY POLITICS. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

------. 1994. WOMAN LAWYERS: REWRITING THE RULES. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 1997. THE TIME BIND: WHEN WORK BECOMES HOME AND HOME BECOMES WORK. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Kay, Fiona M. 1991. TRANSITION IN THE ONTARIO LEGAL PROFESSION: A SURVEY OF LAWYERS CALLED TO THE BAR BETWEEN 1975-1990. A Report to the Law Society of Upper Canada. Toronto: Osgoode Hall.

Rhode, Deborah L. 1994. "Gender and Professional Roles," FORDHAM LAW REVIEW 63: 39.

Williams, Joan. 2000. UNBENDING GENDER: WHY FAMILY AND WORK CONFLICT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. New York: Oxford University Press.



Copyright 2002 by the author, Adelaide H. Villmoare.