Early Law Careers of Male and Female Lawyers in the United States and Germany: A Comparative Study of Work, Family, and Childbearing (GR 12-01)

Executive Summary

This study compares young German lawyers practicing in Frankfurt and Berlin with young U.S. lawyers practicing in New York and Washington, DC. These lawyers are at ages and stages when they are most likely to marry and have children. The U.S. law profession often is characterized in terms of hierarchically structured “mega law firms” that reward closely monitored performance. German firms tend to be smaller, with less rigid performance expectations, and with more flexibility in work arrangements. There is much to be learned from a comparative look at German and U.S. lawyers. The biggest and perhaps most notable difference is that young German female lawyers are more likely to have had children, and to have had them earlier than their U.S. counterparts. The biggest and most notable similarity is that both in German and U.S. larger firms, women are less likely to have children and more likely to have them later. The higher incentive for young female lawyers in large U.S. firms to have no children—or only one child later in life—is the greater potential for professional advancement. The higher incentive of young female lawyers in smaller German firms to have one or more children, and to have them earlier in life, is their more flexible part- and full-time work arrangements. The more traditional legal culture of Germany may ironically offer greater autonomy for parenting but reduced economic rewards, while the mega law culture of the United States may offer less autonomy for parenting but enhanced economic rewards.

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