Vying for the Lead in the Boys’ Club: Understanding the Gender Gap in Multidistrict Leadership Appointments

Updated study: December 21, 2018

This 2018 update to Vying for the Lead in the “Boys’ Club” examines court-appointed multidistrict litigation leadership in cases initiated in 2016 and 2017, to understand what has happened with rates of female appointment in the years following the initial study. Overall, results indicate that the gender gap in multidistrict leadership appointments remains substantial. Consistent with the previous findings from 2011 through 2015, women are appointed at far lower rates than men in all categories of leadership positions. At the same time, the linear trends of the average rates of female appointment over all the years analyzed indicate consistent and steady progress for female leadership. These findings continue to serve as the basis for further exploration of the institutional, cultural, and interpersonal factors that contribute to the sizeable gender discrepancy in MDL leadership appointment rates through depth interviews with practitioners. It is intended that these findings will inform future initiatives for women’s advancement in court-appointed leadership and the legal profession as a whole.

Download the 2018 Update

Original Study: March 20, 2017

The gender gap in the legal profession has been researched and commented upon at length. Female lawyers earn less than their male counterparts, hold fewer leadership positions, and serve as lead counsel in litigation less often. While the gender gap is well documented, research has not yet specifically identified the extent of the gender gap in court-appointed leadership in multidistrict litigation. Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a federal statutory mechanism that consolidates complex civil litigation cases and transfers the consolidated matter to one federal district judge for pretrial proceedings, accounting for 36 percent of all federal litigation. The transferee judge then appoints leadership counsel for the consolidated cases in a myriad of ways. While it is widely acknowledged by practitioners that a serious gender gap exists in MDL leadership appointment, research has not yet quantified the discrepancy across all types of MDLs, or the ways in which the varied procedural and cultural factors contribute to this discrepancy.

Dana Alvaré’s study Vying for the Lead in the Boys Club: Understanding the Gender Gap in Multidistrict Leadership Appointments, examines MDL dockets over the last five years and quantifies the current rate of disparity in leadership appointments. She identifies which, if any, case factors that correlate with these rates, and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the contributing factors to the discrepancy.

Download the Study

Dana Alvaré is a Research Fellow for the Women in Legal Leadership Project, which is a Dean’s Special Project of the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. Dana is a lawyer and doctoral candidate in sociology of gender and law at the University of Delaware where her research focuses on law and society, specifically gender in the legal profession. She teaches sociology courses at both Temple University and the University of Delaware. Prior to her work in academia, Dana practiced land use and municipal law in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Email her at DanaJAlvare@gmail.com.  


Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales specializes in immigration law, international law, procedure and process. She currently teaches civil procedure, evidence, gender and migration, and refugee law and policy.  Professor Ramji-Nogales’ research areas include empirical assessment of asylum adjudication, international and comparative migration law, and transitional justice. She is the faculty advisor to the Women in Legal Leadership Project.