ABA Journal Under Fire For Coverage Of Survey Of Legal Secretaries

I often read ABA Journal as a great source of legal stories. The journal however has been the center of controversy this month after reporting on the results of a study on the preference of secretaries vis-a-vis male and female partners. The study by Professor Felice Batlan interviewed 142 secretaries at larger law firms and produced a surprising result: not a single secretary preferred female partners. When the ABA Journal reported that surprising fact, professors accused it of fostering gender stereotypes, misrepresenting the results of the study, and displaying a sexist view of the work. Some demanded a retraction and apology from the ABA Journal.

The original story by the ABA Journal put the results of the survey in the second full graph as follows:

Asked whether they preferred to work for male or female partners or associates, 35 percent preferred working for male partners, 15 percent preferred working for male associates, 3 percent preferred working for female associates, none preferred working for female partners, and 47 percent had no opinion.

It also gave Williams and others extensive coverage in explaining the results. Many female secretaries are quoted in the study as explaining their preference for male partners — objecting to how they are treated by some female partners.

The Journal included a full presentation of the views of Williams and others that the survey reflected not a gender difference how partners related to staff but the sexist attitudes of the secretaries. I have read the articles and the underlying research conclusions and I fail to see the basis for the criticism of the ABA Journal. This is a journalistic enterprise and ran a headline isolating the most notable conclusion of the survey. It is very interesting to have a survey where not a single secretary would express a preference for a female partner. Reporter Debra Cassens Weiss then gave the view of feminist scholars that this was the result not of the difference of the partners in their approaches but the distorted view of the secretaries. That is an interesting story presented in a fair way. The Journal then gave a huge follow up story below repeating and expanding on the view of these scholars.

The survey sought to explore gender difference in the workforce between partners and secretaries. If the results came out that most preferred women partners, would the same scholars have argued that that view was due to the gender bias of the secretaries or would it have been explained in a different approach of female partners? Instead, some of the critics refuse to consider if there is a difference in approach among partners and instead insist that it is gender indoctrination of the se secretaries.

I have little expertise in such gender studies and I would expect some results to be shaped by sexist views given the overall problem of sexism in society. However, I do have some experience in legal journalism. In my view, to attack the ABA Journal and demand retraction of the story is unfounded. Debra Cassens Weiss ran with the most striking aspect of the story and then gave the response to that fact — and the other findings are included at the top of the story. The reaction to her piece undermines the credibility of the use and ultimate purpose of the survey.

What do you think?

Source: ABA Journal

101 thoughts on “ABA Journal Under Fire For Coverage Of Survey Of Legal Secretaries”

  1. AY,

    Blueberry Pie Recipe

    – 2 and 1/2 cups of King Arthur flour
    – 1/2 teaspoon salt
    – 3/4 cup shortening (I usually use Crisco.)
    – 6-7 tablespoons of cold/iced water

    Mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender. Combine lightly…until the mixture looks like coarse meal or very tiny peas. Sprinkle water over mixture, a tablespoon at a time, and mix lightly with a fork. Use only enough water so that the pastry will hold together when pressed gently into a ball. (Note: I usually use 7 tablespoons of water.)

    Pie Filling:
    – 5 1/2 cups blueberries (I use Wyman’s fresh frozen wild blueberries from Maine. You don’t have to completely thaw them.)
    – About 3 tablespoons of flour
    – 1 cup sugar
    – 1/8 teaspoon salt
    – 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    – 1 tablespoon butter

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
    Line glass pie pan with half the pastry dough.
    Mix flour, sugar, and salt in large mixing bowl.
    Add blueberries and lemon juice and mix well.
    Pile mixture onto the pastry dough.
    Dot mixture with butter.
    Roll out top pie crust and place over blueberry mixture.
    Crimp and flute edges.
    Cut several vents in top pie crust.
    Note: I usually sprinkle sugar over the top pie crust.
    Bake for 10 minutes on bottom shelf of oven.
    Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30-40 minutes until the top crust is browned.

  2. rafflaw,

    You and your wife would most likely love one of the cakes made by Cakes for Occasions in Danvers, Massachusetts–the bakery that made the cake for my daughter’s wedding. One of the bakery’s specialties is called the “opera cake.” It’s chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache, frosted with mocha buttercream, and covered with chocolate glaze. It’s a chocolate lovers dream!


    The bakery also makes a pumpkin caramel cheesecake that is dreamy. I say that and I’m not a cheesecake lover.

  3. Woosty and Elaine,
    I agree that a good chocolate cake is the best. Especially if it has chocolate frosting! Our wedding cake in 1974 was a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The hotel wasn’t sure we really wanted that, but once everyone tasted it, there was very little for us to freeze and save.

  4. Woosty,

    Email me. You’ll find my email address at my blog.

    Your cake sounds luscious! We had two different flavors in my daughter’s wedding cake. One was called Chocolate Paradise. It was divine. It was chocolate caked soaked in rum syrup and filled with coconut buttercream. YUM!!!

    I’d add that nothing beats a homemade apple pie or blueberry pie.

    P.S. Last December I posted a recipe for another family favorite–almond gateau with raspberry sauce. The cake is made with almond paste and is really moist.


  5. Elaine that sounds delicious….especially the whoopie pie filling. I used to make a sour cream chocolate cake w/white buttercream filling and cocoanut frosting. NOTHING beats a homemade chocolate cake…

    can I get the whoopie pie filling recipe? it sounds delicious…

  6. Woosty,

    One of my baking specialties is a sour cream chocolate cake. I frost it with homemade whoopie pie filling and glaze it with bittersweet chocolate. I have to make two of these cakes for every holiday–or I’ll hear from my family. The cake isn’t healthful–but it is delicious.

    P.S. 100% of the people surveyed want me to do the baking in my family and not my husband.


  7. Gene, you should come to the party….Elaine, the cigar does not get ‘smoked’…it is an appreciation thing….and yes , I believe that you can make a tasty, healthy cake….one trick, use real chocolate.

  8. So Yepp,

    That will be dinner for 3, to start, I’ll bring the coffee, Elaine is bringing the cake….I’m thinking we will leave the cigar to you, but I will need an expense account so please send me the Carte Blanche card and I’ll arrange everything….the more the merrier! Right?

  9. Elaine M.1, November 8, 2011 at 11:08 am
    yes! (but make it a tasty but healthy cake….)

    now all we need is the cigar…. πŸ™‚

  10. Yepp,

    You wrote: “Most would prefer working with a male as boss than a female or anyone else with an agenda to make partner.”

    I didn’t read that statement as “gender neutral.” Your statement seems to imply that women who want to make partner have an agenda. Do you think that men who want to make partner also have an agenda?

  11. I do declare that you have misread my posting. I was gender neutral about the part of one wanting to make partner. I know, I have worked with the psychopaths. Both create the messes and it is for the subordinate to clean it up while they take the credit for the billable hours If a male partner talked to a female secretary the way female partner does they have a dual standard. The male get warned, while it is stated that you just have to take her where she is and if you would like to leave you may.

  12. Yepp1, November 8, 2011 at 10:22 am
    Yepp, dahling, do come for dinner some time and we can talk about…things.

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