Law360 recently released their annual Glass Ceiling report, ranking ten firms above their peers based on the percentage of women in their ranks. Milwaukee-based Quarles & Brady outpaced the other 300 U.S. firms to win the number one spot. Quarles is also the only firm on the list to have a female chair. Akerman came in eighth, and law firm giant Baker & McKenzie took home the bronze.
Quarles & Brady chairwoman Kim Johnson attributed a variety of equality practices to the win, including an “equal opportunity” approach to promotions, which ensures that a minority is considered for every open position, and simply “making female attorney support and retention a priority,” (as quoted in Law360).
Astor Professional Search president Bill Sugarman quoted in Law360, discussing the Midwest legal market: http://www.law360.com/articles/789064/midwest-firm-falls-victim-to-cutthroat-lateral-market
In a profession “less diverse than doctors or engineers [who are] 88 percent white,” says Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of Howard University Law, the legal community is still struggling with diversity (as quoted in the ABA Journal). In fact, the recently released Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey found that out of 250 law firms, an overwhelming 84 percent of attorneys self-identify as white/Caucasian, with only 3 percent identifying as African-American, 6 percent as Asian-American, and another 3 percent as Hispanic/Latino. The report also concluded that while the recruitment of minorities has slightly increased, the attrition of these minority attorneys is still occurring at a disproportionate rate.
Perhaps even more alarming is the ‘double jeopardy’ plight of minority women in law. The ABA Journal reported in their March issue headliner that an astounding 85-percent of U.S. minority female attorneys will quit their large firms within seven years of starting their practice. And, minority racial status aside, “women account for only 18 percent of equity partners in the Am Law 200 and earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts do for comparable work, hours, and revenue generation,” reported the 2015 survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers (as quoted in the ABA Journal). Add race back in to find that minority women accounted for a mere 2.55 percent of partners in 2015, rendering them the “most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern [holding] across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions,” (NALP, as reported by the ABA Journal).
So, in light of the many disturbing statistics, what can and are law firms doing today to help bridge the inequality gap? Howard law dean Holley-Walker suggests that young minority lawyers should make an extra effort to build relationships with partners, who serve to not only mentor them now, but eventually to act as a sponsor, ready to “go to bat” for the younger attorney (as quoted in the ABA Journal).
And it appears that some firms are already going the extra mile. Above the Law released the results of their 2016 Law Firm Gender Diversity Index, which classified over 200,000 attorneys and assigned grades based on each firm’s gender diversity statistics. Milwaukee-based Quarles & Brady stood out in the top six of all firms, and was awarded an A+.
The list reports that law firms featured in the Best 50 employed more female equity partners, at twenty percent, than the national average (seventeen percent). The Best 50 compilation also boasts that sixteen percent of the firms now have three or more women among their “top ten rainmakers,” a five percent increase from 2014.
Five firms appeared on both the Working Mother’s ‘Best 50’ list and The American Lawyer’s “Eight Firms Where Women Thrive“: Quarles & Brady, Baker & McKenzie, Sidley Austin, Holland & Hart, and Reed Smith.
Read more from the report here.