Survey reveals that women have a long way to go to break into law firm leadership roles.
Snapshot of the 2009 Survey Results
Women in Law Firm Leadership: Women play a surprisingly small role
in the highest levels of law firm leadership. In spite of more than two
decades in which women have graduated from law schools and started
careers in private practice at about the same rate as men, women continue
to be markedly underrepresented in the leadership ranks of firms. The
average firm’s highest governing committee counts women as only 15%
of its members – and about 14% of the nation’s largest firms have no
women at all on their governing committees. Only about 6% of law firms
have women managing partners.
Women as Equity Partners: Women lawyers account for fewer than
16% of equity partners, those lawyers who hold an ownership interest in
their firms and occupy the most prestigious, powerful and best-paid
positions. The relative lack of women equity partners may be a major
factor in why the ranks of law firm leaders suffer a paucity of women.
The likely result will be an extended period in which women are
correspondingly underrepresented in leadership positions – unless firms
focus on this continuing and, some might add, endemic problem of
advancing women into the ranks of equity partners.
Women as Rainmakers: Rainmaking was a major focus of the 2009
Survey. The ability to “make rain” – bring in substantial business to a
firm – is well known to affect the prospects of a successful career in private
practice. We found the role of women as major rainmakers is surprisingly
weak. Almost half the firms – 46% – count no women at all in their top
10 rainmakers. The fact that women do not play dominant or even
substantial roles in law firm rainmaking also impacts their prospects for
leadership and compensation.
Partner Compensation: Women continue to earn less than their male
counterparts at the highest levels of partnership, with women equity
partners earning typically about $66,000 less than their male counterparts.
While this number shows substantially less disparity than in previous
years, the result may stem from the fact that, on average, compensation in
firms declined in the last year, narrowing the gender gap at least for the
time being but certainly not close to eliminating it.
Impact of Lateral Hiring: For both male and female lawyers, moving is
likely to be a better strategy than staying in the lawyer’s original firm.
That said, males are recruited far more often for equity partnership than
females. Firm structure impacts the extent to which home-grown lawyers
or lateral hires are promoted to equity partner, with one tier firms more
likely to promote women from within the firm to equity partner.
Impact of Recent Involuntary Terminations: The deep dive taken by
many law firms in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the weakened economy led
to lawyer terminations in larger numbers than have been seen in many
years. In the 2009 survey, we studied the comparative impact of law firm
terminations on women versus men, by surveying law firm terminations
through end of June 2009. Men and women generally have been cut in
rates proportionate to their numbers as associates and partners. The
exception concerns terminations of part-time lawyers, which fall
disproportionately on women even after taking into account that women
fill the majority of part-time positions. The vast majority of part-timers
who were cut were women lawyers, further decreasing the ranks of
women lawyers and those who can position themselves to become equity
partners or law firm leaders in the future.
Diversity Positions in Firms: About 70% of firms reported that they
employ a person whose primary responsibility is to oversee the firm’s
diversity goals. The professional background of the person in the
diversity position varied widely: about 49% of these positions are held by
persons with a law degree, even if in their current post they are not
practicing law, and 37% are held by non-lawyers. Whether or not
diversity personnel focus full time on matters of diversity also varies.
Nearly 64% of firms maintain one or more full time diversity positions,
while the remaining firms staff the position with one or more part time
positions or through a part-time Committee.
Impact of Law Firm Structure: The 2008 NAWL Survey was the first
study to identify and collect data on a new type of law firm structure, the
“mixed tier” firm, in which all equity partners are required to contribute
capital to the firm but some are paid as if they were income partners. Our
2009 data show an increase in the structure with about 21% of the nation’s
largest firms now functioning as mixed tier firms. One tier firms appear
to be better settings for the advancement of women lawyers because, as
examples, one tier firms have larger percentages of women equity
partners, and new women equity partners, and a smaller proportion of
firms with lawyer terminations.
Click here for complete survey results