Lawyers at the 'information age water cooler': exposing sex discrimination and challenging law firm culture on the internet
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Prior research has repeatedly documented the existence of gender inequality, discrimination, and harassment in the legal practice, an occupation that remains maledominated in terms of both numbers and organizational culture. Despite the availability of some legal remedies, women attorneys rarely sue their employers, and often do not challenge discriminatory behavior. In this dissertation, I explore this seemingly contradictory situation, where lawyers fail to employ the legal system on their own behalf, and I seek to determine whether the law can in fact be mobilized to challenge and perhaps change gender relations in the legal practice. Through ethnographic field research and content analysis of an Internet community, my research examines possible methods by which the law can serve as a tool to challenge gender discrimination. Further, I assess the manner in which the Internet community itself can serve as a vehicle for challenging gender inequality. In particular, I first explore the role formal litigation might play in promoting change for women attorneys, determining that attorneys in the Internet community are hesitant to employ litigation to challenge gender discrimination. This reluctance appears to result in large part from attorneysÃ¢ÂÂ familiarity with the daunting task of establishing a discrimination case in the judicial system, as well as from a fear that the pursuit of litigation could inflict damage upon their legal careers. I then consider whether the law can serve as a useful tool to challenge inequality when legal discourse is employed within the Internet community to invoke a legal right to a discrimination-free workplace. I find that attorneys, despite their legal training, call upon both formal and informal notions of discrimination when confronted with circumstances colored with inequity. The Internet community itself provides a protected, semianonymous forum in which to engage in such discourse, thereby subverting many of the barriers that currently exist to challenging gender inequality in the legal practice. Further, the community serves as a resource to bring public attention to bear upon law firms, creating external pressures which encourage a reevaluation of both lay and legal understandings of prohibited gender discrimination.
Baumle, Amanda Kathleen (2005). Lawyers at the 'information age water cooler': exposing sex discrimination and challenging law firm culture on the internet. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from