Amy Schulman, general counsel of Pfizer

When it comes to the representation of women in the top positions in the legal profession, the news seems somewhat mixed. Things could be better in Biglaw. According to a recent survey, women constitute just 15 percent of equity partners — a number that has stayed roughly the same for the past 20 years.

On the in-house side of the divide, though, the news is better. Women lawyers are ascending to the post of general counsel in record numbers.

Let’s check out the latest findings, courtesy of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA)….

According to the MCCA, more women served as general counsel of Fortune 500 companies in 2011 than ever before. More than 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a female GC — 108 out of 500, to be exact.

Here are additional survey highlights, from the MCCA press release:

  • The number of women general counsel has accelerated in recent years, with 23 added since 2009.
  • Top female legal officers are increasingly diverse. About 16 percent of the 2011 group identified themselves as minorities, the most diverse in the survey’s history. They included 90 whites/Caucasians, 11 African Americans, four Hispanics, two Asian/Pacific Islanders, and one of Middle Eastern origin.
  • Although women general counsel are based at Fortune 500 companies across the country, six states comprised 50 percent of the list: California with 12 companies, New York with 11, Texas with ten, Illinois with eight, and New Jersey and Virginia each with seven….

According to Joseph West, president and CEO of the MCCA, “The representation of women general counsel at Fortune 500 companies has grown steadily since MCCA began tracking this information in 1999.”

So it does get better, at least when it comes to representation of women in the top jobs of the legal profession (jobs that are very well paid, by the way). But Biglaw may be a tougher nut to crack. As the number of women general counsel increases, will the representation of women in the ranks of law firm partnerships grow as well? That remains to be seen.

The full survey results will appear in the September/October 2012 issue of Diversity & the Bar, MCCA’s bi-monthly publication, and will be available on the MCCA website, www.mcca.com. In the meantime, you can read the full MCCA press release on the next page for more detail.


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