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Fewer women are making partner in US law firms

But more are gaining positions in executive committees 

24 April 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

The number of female associates making partner in US law firms is declining, while the number of women gaining senior management positions is increasing.

That's according to an annual survey on gender equality in law firms, which found that there have been similar levels of female representation in the associate pool since 2011.

However, the number of women being promoted to equity partner has dropped from just under a third to just over a quarter in the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, representation of women on executive or management committees has nearly doubled in the same period.

"Pay attention to the numbers. Firms can justify every decision, particularly on partnership, partner compensation, and anything that is subjective. But numbers are numbers," said a female non-equity partner on the 2014 Yale Law Women survey.

"If women are not succeeding in the partnership or leaving after they make partner, there is likely some serious implicit bias in the system. Most of the programs are aimed at keeping women associates at the firm, which is a worthy goal. But there has to be an analysis of the partnership."

The annual research into the Vault Law 100 firms found that women comprised 43 per cent of the associate pool in 2011. This increased to 46 per cent in 2012 and then dipped to 44 per cent in 2013.

However, this level of diversity has not carried through to the equity partner level. The proportion of women among newly-promoted equity partners increased from 30 per cent in 2011 to 31 per cent in 2012, but then dropped to 27 per cent in 2013.

The total proportion of female equity partners remained flat at 17 per cent in 2011 and 2012, increasing slightly to 18 per cent in 2013.

But, representation of women on executive or management committees has nearly doubled over the past couple of years, jumping from 12 per cent in 2011 to 20 per cent in 2012 and then rising to 21 per cent in 2013.

This suggests that women who have succeeded in climbing the ranks are gaining greater influence within their partnerships.

"Gender equity continues to be a significant factor for both students and alumni evaluating a firm's family friendliness, and this is true for both male and female respondents," the report said.

"Students who want the option of making a long career at the law firm they plan to enter would benefit from evaluating family friendliness and work-life balance up front."

The research found that the ten firms which currently have the most family-friendly policies and practices in the US are (in alphabetical order): Arnold & Porter; Baker Botts; Hogan Lovells; Hunton & Williams; Kirkland & Ellis; Morrison & Foerster; Munger, Tolles & Olson; Orrick; Paul Weiss; and Vinson & Elkins.





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