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One-third of U.S. lawyers are now women

Women attorneys are making gains, according to new census numbers, although they have yet to achieve parity at the top levels of the profession

Women are making significant gains in the fields of law and medicine, where they now hold roughly one-third of all jobs, according to U.S. census figures reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Women held 33.4 percent of legal jobs in 2010, a total that includes professionals such as lawyers, judges and arbitrators. That marks a 29.2 percent increase from 2000, and an even more substantial jump from 1970, when just 4.9 percent of the country’s lawyers were women.

Unsurprisingly, this increase corresponds with an increase in women attending and graduating from law school, an accomplishment that was a rarity just half a century ago. Women received 45.9 percent of all J.D.s awarded in the 2009-2010 academic year, according to a 2011 study by the American Bar Association.

But the encouraging numbers don’t mean that female lawyers have achieved complete parity. Notably, they are still falling behind their male counterparts when it comes to reaching the upper ranks of their profession. Although the percentage of female law partners is increasing, they only constitute 18.8 percent of both equity and non-equity partners nationwide, according to a study from the National Law Journal. On the corporate side, women occupy just 21 percent of the top legal positions in Fortune 500 companies, although that number is also climbing.

This disparity, and a corresponding pay gap, is largely owing to the fact that women are more likely to leave their jobs—or take on less-demanding, lower-paid positions—in order to raise families, according to experts cited in the WSJ.

For more InsideCounsel coverage of women in law, see:

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More Fortune 500 women GCs than ever before, study says

The Atlantic’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” hits home for female lawyers

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Alanna Byrne

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