“… women still account, on average, for fewer than one in five big-firm partners.”

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From The American Lawyer:

… Looking specifically at gender diversity, our analysis found that women made up 34 percent of lawyers at the firms we surveyed: 45 percent of nonpartners and 19 percent of partners. It’s a respectable but not dramatic increase over the numbers recorded by our sibling publication The National Law Journal in past NLJ 250 surveys. In 2002, for example, the NLJ 250 found that women accounted for 31.3 percent of all attorneys: 41.5 percent of associates, 16.5 percent of partners. (One caveat: The NLJ’s data is not precisely comparable to our survey data. We focus on female lawyers only in the U.S. offices of large firms, while the NLJ counts female lawyers in all offices of the firms it surveys. Our study also includes several firms that are in The Am Law 200 but not the NLJ 250.)

A close look at the data shows that firms with the highest percentage of female lawyers overall also tended to have relatively high percentages of women partners. Among the 20 firms with the greatest proportion of female attorneys [see chart, right], Littler Mendelson had a partnership that is 29.0 percent female, followed by Lewis, Brisbois (26.7 percent female partners), and Faegre & Benson (23.8 percent female partners). On average, the firms in this top 20 averaged 25 percent women partners; the survey-wide mean was 19 percent. (Our study does not distinguish between equity and nonequity partners.)

Crunching the numbers further tells a more interesting story. Of the female lawyers we counted, what percentage are partners? In other words, are women reaching the senior levels of a firm in proportion to their overall numbers? To find out, we calculated the number of female partners as a percentage of all women lawyers. We found that at the firms surveyed, about 23 percent of female lawyers were in the partnership ranks. For every women who’s made partner, there are three women in the nonpartner ranks.

That 3:1 leverage among female lawyers is double the leverage among all lawyers–male and female–in the firms surveyed. Nationally, we found that 41 percent of all lawyers are partners: For each partner, there are about 1.5 nonpartners. If one looks just at male lawyers, the leverage essentially vanishes: There is about one male nonpartner for each male partner.

So women remain more concentrated at firms’ lower levels. That’s true even at many firms with relatively high proportions of women.

The study also found:

One of the first questions we wanted to answer was how women’s numbers at law firms compare to those of minority lawyers. These days, “diversity” often refers to both racial and gender makeup, and it’s tempting to think that one accompanies the other. However, the statistics show that minorities and women are not necessarily progressing in tandem. When we compared the 20 top firms in the Women in Law Firms study [see chart, page 76] and in MLJ ‘s Diversity Scorecard [see minoritylawjournal.com], which measures racial diversity, we found little overlap. Only four firms made both lists’ top tier: Cleary; Paul, Weiss; Epstein Becker; and Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith. Just 11 firms ranked in the top 50 in both racial and gender diversity.

Why the disparity? For some firms, geography may help explain why they have been less successful in recruiting and retaining lawyers of color than female lawyers. Consider one extreme example: Faegre & Benson, eighth in the Women in Law Firms ranking, 172nd on the Diversity Scorecard. The firm’s four U.S. offices are in Minnesota, Colorado, and Iowa–mostly states with relatively small minority populations, although Colorado is almost 20 percent Hispanic. In other cases, the key to understanding the gap may lie in a given firm’s practice specialty. Some intellectual property firms that rate well in racial diversity don’t do as well when it comes to women–perhaps reflecting the lower numbers of women with advanced degrees in engineering and the hard sciences. Townsend and Townsend and Crew is second on the Diversity Scorecard, 202nd in Women in Law Firms. Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, fifth on the Diversity Scorecard, ranks 204th in Women in Law Firms (for the full Women in Law Firms study, click here) [REQUIRES SUBSCRIPTION OR REGISTRATION].

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