Major law firms like to tout their dedication to furthering women’s success in the law, but if you look more closely, you’ll find that many Biglaw firm talk a big game, but have little proof back up their words. Take, for example, the fact that according to a recent survey conducted by the National Law Journal, the percentage of women lawyers in partnership positions has increased only 2.8 percent since 2003. In the meantime, the National Association of Women Lawyers says that the percentage of women in equity partnership positions has been “fixed” at just 15 percent for the past 20 years.
Well, whoop-dee-doo at all of these wonderful statistics that we’ve been choking down for the past decade. Women are apparently supposed to be happy about this kind of painfully slow progress. But what about the firms that have actually honored their commitments to women lawyers?
Let’s take a look at the numbers….
A common criticism here is that women tend to leave the practice of law as they grow older, leaving a smaller selection pool for the partnership track. But it should be noted that some women still want it all. Some women still dream of making partner. (And yes, contrary to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s words, you can have it all.)
Writing for the National Law Journal, Vivia Chen provides us with a picture of what the equity gender gap looks like in the NLJ 250, the largest firms in the United States by headcount, noting that “[a]t just five firms [of the 221] surveyed, women make up more than 25 percent of equity partners.” These five lucky firms are:
Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy (42 percent female equity partners);
Jackson Kelly (28.4 percent);
Ice Miller (26.9 percent);
Best Best & Krieger (26.7 percent); and
Ford & Harrison (26.1 percent).
If you aren’t familiar with these firms, it’s because their practices are “regional and highly classified.” But here’s a name that you’ve heard before: WilmerHale. With 23.2 percent women equity partners, it is by far the largest firm — and also one of the highest-grossing firms — to make up the top 20 NLJ 250 firms with the highest percentage of female equity partners. Not to be forgotten, however, are other well-known Biglaw names with more than 20 percent women in their equity ranks, including Covington & Burling; Davis Polk; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; Paul Weiss; Ropes & Gray; and Willkie Farr.
As noted by both the National Law Journal and the WSJ Law Blog, women tend to have better luck at firms with a single-tier partnership structure — 17.6 percent of equity partners in single-tier firms are women, whereas only 14.7 percent are women in firms with two partnership tiers. Ladies, if you’re interested in moving ahead in the world of Biglaw, these seem to be the best places for you to succeed at doing that.
Maybe with these tips in hand, women will be able to speed up the process of equalizing the partnership gender gap at large law firms. But we’ll have to wait and see — and hopefully it won’t take another decade to find out.
At big firms, equity gender gap continues [National Law Journal]
Big Law And Women: Closing the Gap, Very Slowly [WSJ Law Blog]
NLJ Survey: Slow Progress for Women Partners in BigLaw [ABA Journal]