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In the Inland Empire, government law offices provide more of their jobs to women than private firms do, a Follow Our Courts analysis of local lawyer licenses has found.

While roughly 46% of licensed attorneys in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are women, the combined law offices of cities, counties, public defenders and district attorneys employ roughly 53% women. In the private sector, 43% of attorneys are women, with some large firms as low as 30%.

The Riverside Public Defender’s Office, which employs roughly 59% women, has the highest proportion of attorneys who are women in any of the government’s large offices, a statistic Riverside Public Defender Steven Harmon said was due to the increased number of women graduating from law school and a lack of discrimination on his office’s end.

“If more women are coming out of law school, we’ll probably interview more women than men,” Harmon said. “I think the key is that any organization, public or private, is open to not discriminating any way against people coming out of law school.”

Fifty-six percent of law students are now women, according to the American Bar Association, although a decade ago, 47% of law students were women.

Harmon says equity efforts go hand in hand with the mission of the office.

“We help people in trouble. We’re the epitome of equal justice, and we want to help people who are in trouble,” Harmon said. “There’s no room for any kind of discrimination.”

In the private sector, however, around 42% of attorneys are women. One of them is Soheila Azizi , who has run her own practice out of Rancho Cucamonga for the past three decades, and co-founded the Women on the Move Network.

“I cannot tell you how many things could be in the way of a woman who wants to take care of their own practice,” Azizi said.

Soheila Azizi
Soheila Azizi

In large firms, where in some cases women compose a third of the workforce, a “good ol’ boys” culture still exists, impacting recruitment and hiring, Azizi said.

One large firm ranked among the highest for recruiting and promoting women: McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP.* Founding partner Rich McCune said he feels that diversity in general is a competitive advantage.

There’s a “value of diversity in representation, approach and thought” that provides MWA the ability to attract better talent and clients, and do a better job representing them, McCune said.

“In today’s client base, if you’re not a firm that views yourself that way, you’re not the best firm,” McCune said.

SOME TOP IE FIRMS BY PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN PARTNERS

50% Holstrom, Block & Parke APLC 1 of 2 partners (7/11 attorneys)

33%Wood Smith Henning & Berman LLP, 2 of 6 partners (9/22 attorneys)

25%Homan, Stone & Rossi, 1 of 4 partners (7/11 attorneys)

25%McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, 2 of 8 partners (8/16 attorneys)

20%Stream Kim Hicks Wrage & Alfaro, 1 of 5 partners (6/11 attorneys)

Across MWA’s Inland Empire offices, eight of 16 attorneys and two of eight partners are women. They have the most balanced numbers by gender in the Inland Empire, despite not practicing family law, which more women practice than men.

McCune said the firm’s gender equity is partially due to their cases and values. The firm talks up their case history, focusing on their environmental and racial equality cases, to attract new hires, McCune said.

“Today’s interview is me being interviewed, instead of them. Today’s applicants are looking to be diverse. They want to know where you are, environmentally, through racial justice, it’s a totally different world,” McCune said. About half of these hires turn out to be women.

The nonprofit sector typically sees more attorneys who are women than men, according to California Bar data. 
Sean Keating, head of human resources at the nonprofit office of the Inland Counties Legal Services, said he did not have a great answer as to why nonprofits employ more women than the private sector, but offered workplace culture, state mandates and the nonprofits’ missions as reasons.

The California Code of Regulations requires nonprofits to look for diverse sources for candidates to better represent the communities the nonprofits serve. Due to this, the ICLS is more purposeful about hiring minorities and women than private firms, and actively recruits them through law schools and bar associations.

McCune Wright Arevalo partner Kristy Arevalo says she takes pride in mentoring female lawyers who are entering the area of personal injury litigation.

“We’re putting our jobs in places where they are likely to be seen by a minority candidate,” Keating said.

Nonprofits also offer better working environments for parents than private firms, Keating said. Big firms call for 80 to 90 hours a week, but the ICLS has a 37.5 hour work-week and multiple weeks off.

Methodology

Follow Our Courts scraped data from all 5,630 active licenses in the Inland Empire counties from the State Bar of California’s public attorney portal, and ran the names through a gender-identifier, to conduct this analysis. After checking the genders for accuracy, 281, or 5% of attorneys, could not be gender-identified by name. To find the final gendered employment numbers, we split the unknown genders equally male and female at the end calculations for each office or office type.

*McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, funds Follow Our Courts but did not influence the reporting of this story or the decision to research or write on this topic.

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