‘Why are we all still at these firms?’

For the past seven years, the National Association of Women Lawyers has tracked women’s progress at the 200 largest firms in the nation by comparing their careers and compensation with similarly situated men. And for the past seven years, reading NAWL’s report has been like drinking a fifth of gin, and then watching Requiem For A Dream: it’s really freaking depressing.

For every two steps forward the legal industry takes, female attorneys seem to move two steps back. Despite Biglaw firms’ purported support for gender equity, women just aren’t achieving the same success as their male peers, either economically or in terms of attaining leadership roles. From associates to partners, women are always left holding the bag.

With that backdrop, let’s check out the excruciatingly discouraging news for women in Biglaw….

Vivia Chen over at The Careerist provides an excellent summary of NAWL’s 2012 Report (available here):

  • That cursed 15 percent figure again. Women make up barely 15 percent of equity partners, and just 26 percent of nonequity partners.
  • There’s no shortage of women in lower-status positions. Women represent 46 percent of associates, 35 percent of counsel, and 70 percent of staff attorneys.
  • A big wage gap exists between women and men in median compensation. The worst gap is among equity partners, where women make about 89 percent of what men make.
  • Women associates get smaller bonuses. Although nearly 50 percent of all associates are women, they receive only 40 percent of the bonuses.
  • Women lag behind in business. “Women partners are credited with a smaller median book of business than men, even though their business development efforts may be substantial,” reads the report.
  • Compensation decisions are made in a black box. “The gap between the median compensation of male and female equity partners cannot be explained by differences in billable hours, total hours, or books of business.”
  • Women partners lack clout. Women hold only 20 percent of the positions on a firm’s highest governance committee, and only 4 percent of firms have a firmwide female managing partner.

Smaller salaries and bonuses to match? What’s not to like? Oh, that’s right… everything about that statement. If there were ever a time to be cursing at work, now would be it — unless, of course, you don’t mind the fact that the ranks of staff attorneys in Biglaw are the latest pink ghetto for women. That’s right: NAWL’s latest report notes that 70 percent of staff attorneys are women (up from 55 percent in last year’s survey). As Mitt Romney would say, Biglaw’s got binders full of women, but they all seem to be trapped as staff attorneys.

Barbara Flom, the author of the report, thinks that Biglaw firms ought to make an effort to get with the program:

You can read more about the report — including the limited amount of good news — over at The Careerist.

No matter how many times Biglaw firms have claimed that they’re doing their best to advance women within their firms, real progress has yet to have been made. Instead, women are left with these sad little anecdotes about their firms’ hopes to improve gender equity, when in reality, that’s about as far away from the truth as could be possible.

I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

Never have Linkin Park lyrics been so applicable.

Seventh Annual NAWL National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms
[National Association of Women Lawyers]
Women Are Now 70 Percent of Staff Lawyers, But Stuck at 15 Percent for Equity Partners [The Careerist]


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