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18 Jul

Women in Big Law: Reaching Gender Parity

by: Astor Professional Search

Law.com reported that only 34% of lawyers in large firms today are women. That statistic has faced less than a 1% increase over the last five years, according to ALM’s Female Scorecard. Senior ALM Analyst, Nicholas Bruch, reported that only 18% of equity partners and a shocking 8% of lawyers making over half-a-million dollars are women. In a goal to meet gender parity, large firms are making slow progress–but not all hope is lost.

Despite the slow moving figures, there is supporting data implying that Big Law will reach the goal of gender parity, eventually. According to Law.com, ALM reported recent figures that women account for 47% of law school graduates. This figure is generally in line with the climbing 45% of entry-level associates at large firms that are women. The increasing numbers prove that Big Law’s strategies to hire more women are effective at this phase. Attacking the issue at entry-level is key for large firms to fix the problem from occurring further down the road.

ALM conducted a Women in Leadership Survey which revealed that one in four members on key governing committees are women. This indicates that firm leaders are making a noticeable effort to place female partners in top leadership roles. The 18% of females in equity roles to choose from seems to be what is slowing down efforts.

Firms are making significant efforts to hire females at the entry-level and at the most senior level, but the focus should be to retain women in Big Law and transition female associates into partners. Firms should target two critical pieces: supporting female career progression and developing a plan to gather data on why females are leaving the firm or the industry. According to ALM Intelligence, women don’t necessarily leave the legal industry at a specific milestone in their lives or careers. So, the assumption that women are leaving the law after having a child or during key partner promotion years is largely false. Data reveals that women are leaving the law at a slow and consistent rate–an indicator that law firms must creatively solve the issue of female retention.

Law.com suggests that a single, clear and obvious solution is not likely to be found. Leaders in large firms should take a broader approach and focus on developing an assortment of strategies to retain and promote female lawyers. Some firms have started implementing mentorship and coaching programs to target women in crucial transition years. Even though the results of such programs have yet to surface, the efforts to retain females in Big Law are undeniably progressing.

For more information, contact Bill Sugarman.

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