Are Female Law Partners Too 'Emotional' to Keep a Legal Secretary?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on October 26, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Most law firm associates recognize the importance of legal secretaries.

They can help streamline a case. They arrange your appointments, make sure you have all the right documents when you're zipping out of the office, and can be the vital figure that ensures all your motions get filed on time.

But are you at a disadvantage in getting that perfect secretary if you're a female attorney? You might be.

It seems that generally, more secretaries prefer to work with male attorneys.

These statistics were compiled by a Chicago-Kent law professor, Felice Batlan, who surveyed 142 legal secretaries at large law firms in 2009.

Of the surveyed secretaries, not one said they preferred working for a female partner. Whereas, 35% preferred working with male partners. 15% preferred working with male associates. Only 3% preferred working for a female associate. The rest had no opinion about who they were assigned to.

These are pretty grim prospects for a female partner who's out to snag herself a great legal secretary.

The reasons seem to be varied. Some surveyed secretaries describe female attorneys as more likely to be condescending or demeaning. The word "emotional" also seemed to come up multiple times in the survey results.

Ah yes, the "emotional woman" stereotype comes up again.

Even if female partners aren't actually more emotional than their male counterparts, there are probably other reasons why secretaries prefer to work with men, according to Batlan.

It's possible that law firms are still mired in sexism. Power seems to still be shifted toward male attorneys in many law firms. Perhaps this means that legal secretaries simply want to work for attorneys more likely to move up. Working for the top partner might mean extra perks, after all.

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