Brooklyn Law Review


Roger Michalski


This article is the first to identify, name, and empirically measure the pro se gender gap. Drawing on a massive dataset of all federal civil dockets spanning ten years, it finds a 2-to-1 gender imbalance. For every federal woman pro se litigant there are two males. This finding is robust and stable. It holds true for plaintiffs, defendants, and other parties. It is also true across most subject areas, time, length of litigation, and across states, districts, and circuits. The study excludes prisoner-rights and habeas petitions–including them would widen the gender gap even further. This gender gap reveals a troubling disparity in who has effective access to justice, whose stories are heard, who shapes the development of the law, and whose rights are vindicated by federal courts. Labeling and measuring the pro se gender gap also provides a benchmark to test the efficacy of future policy interventions. As such, this article lays the empirical foundations for a new wave of doctrinal work on the procedural foundations and consequences of gender disparities. It also provides a methodology that can be extended to study litigation gender disparities in state courts, tribal courts, arbitrations, and administrative proceedings.