William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Recent archival and experimental research by Ryan and Haslam has revealed the phenomenon of the glass cliff whereby women are more likely than men to be appointed to risky or precarious leadership positions in problematic organizational circumstances. This paper extends research on the glass cliff by examining the precariousness of the cases women are assigned in a legal context. An experimental study conducted with law students (N = 114) investigated the appointment of a candidate to lead a legal case that was defined as either low-risk or high-risk. Commensurate with patterns observed in other domains, results indicated that a male candidate was as likely as a female to be selected as lead counsel for a low-risk case but that there was a strong preference for a female rather than a male appointment for a high-risk case. The study also examines the way in which participants' evaluations of candidates and their perceptions of risk and opportunity related to candidate selection. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.