Saturday, September 05, 2009

Study suggests masculine names may help women get on the bench?

Debra Cassens Weiss writes this week in the ABA Journal blawg, Law News Now,that, at least in South Carolina, women lawyers with masculine-sounding names have better odds of becoming a judge than their counterparts with feminine names.

The authors of the study, Do Masculine Names Help Female Lawyers Become Judges? Evidence from South Carolina, Bentley Coffey, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Clemson, and Patrick McLaughlin, a Research Fellow at George Mason University, propose a "Portia Hypothesis"* for this perceived phenomenon, that "females with masculine monikers are more successful in legal careers." Success, for purposes of this study, was measured by attaining a judicial post. The paper purports to demonstrate, in Weiss' words, "that changing a woman’s name from something feminine, such as Sue, to a gender-ambiguous name such as Kelly increased the odds of becoming a South Carolina judge by about 5 percent... [while changing] the name Sue to a predominantly male name such as Cameron tripled the odds of becoming a judge, and changing it to Bruce increased the odds by a factor of five."

However, South Carolina is not Illinois. In South Carolina judges are mostly "elected" by the state legislature after first passing through a merit selection commission. In Illinois, though, the evidence would seem to point in a different direction. A feminine-sounding name may actually confer some advantage on a judicial candidate; a feminine-sounding name coupled with an obviously-Irish surname seems to confer an even greater advantage.

And I am not making this up, or relying solely on anecdotes. In a February 2008 post, I wrote about the work of Albert J. Klumpp, PhD, a Research Analyst with the Chicago firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP. In addition to his published works (cited in my earlier post),** Klumpp wrote me that he'd developed "a model for analyzing primary elections" that he'd only just begun to test. Klumpp said that his tentative model "indicates that female candidates had a gender advantage of nearly 200,000 votes. That's for one female candidate running against one or more male candidates; multiple female candidates in a contest split the advantage. That compares to shifts of around 60,000 for slating, 120,000 for a sweep of superior recommendations from the Tribune, Sun-Times, CBA and CCL, and 130,000 for an Irish-name advantage."

* Portia is a character in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, a woman who dresses as a man to plead a case in court. Horace Rumpole referred to Phyllida Trant, later Phyllida Erskine-Brown, in the Rumpole of the Bailey books and television programs as "the Portia of our chambers."

** Klumpp has since published Arizona Judicial Retention: Three Decades of Elections and Candidates in the November 2008 issue of Arizona Attorney.

No comments: