Bar News - September 5, 2008
Choosing the Best Law Firms for Women
Nearly Half of New Attorneys Are Women
Women Scarce in Law Firm Leadership
A recent report by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) shows how far women have still to go attain significant participation in the leadership of the nation’s law firms.
NAWL’s 2007 National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms found that in the largest U.S. firms, men hold 84 percent of equity partnerships, 92 percent of managing partner positions, and 85 percent of the seats on firm governing committees. Male equity partners also earn nearly $90,000 more than female equity partners at the nation’s top firms.
The new report contains recommendations by more than 100 law firm leaders, general counsel, bar association presidents and other experts to enlarge the role of women lawyers in law firm leadership. Among them are:
· publish the criteria for advancement to equity partner;
· refine leadership evaluation criteria at all levels;
· correct for hidden bias;
· align compensation systems to promote the (1) advancement of women into leadership positions, (2) retention and promotion of women, and (3) increasing women's business development;
To view the complete list of recommended actions and the 2007 survey, visit www.nawl.org.
The legal profession is in a work/life crisis, with 78 percent of associates leaving law firms by their fifth year and nearly one-half of women lawyers leaving the profession at some point in their careers. The question is whether law firms will ever abandon their traditional practices to meet today’s rising female workforce demands? They might have to, according to a special report in the August/September issue of Working Mother magazine. Produced in partnership with Flex-Time Lawyers, the report names the best law firms for women and examines the challenges and opportunities afforded to female lawyers.
"Women should not be denied the right to become partners, but the ‘billable hour’ system is not allowing them to advance in their careers and raise a family," writes Carol Evans, CEO of Working Mother Media. "The 100-hour work week model is just not effective. Today, with nearly half of law school graduates women, law firms will have to make a fundamental shift in their policies regarding partnership in order to remain competitive."
To that end, Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers partnered for the second year in a row to name the best law firms for women. The list of law firms recognizes firms that have instituted female and family-friendly benefits. This year, 30 percent more applications were received, signifying the increased importance that law firms are placing on attracting and retaining women, the study’s authors said.
Some firms are making headway, the survey’s authors noted. This year’s winners are redefining the standards of success and creating workplaces that encourage the retention and advancement of women. Among the current programs in place at the winning firms: 98 percent of winning firms host networking groups for female lawyers; 68 percent offer mentoring for senior female associates; and 62 percent offer management training for women.
"The 2008 Best Law Firms for Women are making progress and understanding the need to move in a new direction," said Deborah Epstein Henry, founder and president of Flex-Time Lawyers LLC. "For example, we are seeing increases in our numbers of female equity partners — an average of 19 percent this year, versus 16 percent last year…."
Bringing the balancing act of female lawyers to its pages, Working Mother examines a new breed of "part-time partners," a small but growing trend at law firms. Although women make up only 18 percent of equity and non-equity partners today, 100 percent of the winning firms allow reduced-hour lawyers to be elevated to at least non-equity partnership, which is becoming a critical recruitment and retention tool.
Profiles of the 2008 Best Law Firms for Women are featured in the August/September issue of Working Mother and at www.workingmother.com and www.flextimelawyers.com. Winning firms will be honored at a luncheon at the Mandarin Oriental in New York on Sept. 15.
To read this article in its entirety and for more information about Working Mother Media and Flex-Time Lawyers, LLC and their methodology in choosing the 50 firms, go to www.workingmother.com. For more, read Women at Law: Lessons Learned Along the Pathways to Success, a publication from the ABA that is available at a discount to NHBA members through the Online Store.