What's different about the WILEF list is that it's focused on the bottom line--namely, how women partners fare on the money and leadership front. WILEF isn't bothering with life/work balance issues--like part-time polcies--that often drive discussions about women's progress.
To qualify for the WILEF award, firms have to hit at least three of the following six marks:
• 20 percent female equity partners.
• 10 percent female chairs and office managing partners.
• 20 percent female members on the firm's primary governance committee.
• 20 percent female members on the firm's compensation committee.
• 25 percent female heads of practice groups or department.
• 10 percent female representation in top half of the most highly compensated partners.
"I didn't think these criteria were too hard to meet, but I wasn't surprised that so few firms qualified," said WILEF chair Elizabeth Anne "Betiayn" Tursi to The National Law Journal. (WILEF invited 300 firms with 100 or more attorneys to apply.)
Frankly, that 32 number exceeded my expectations--but then my expectations tend to run quite low about women's progress in law firms. However, when I took a closer look at the winner pool, I wasn't quite so impressed.
For instance, "only 42 percent of the certified firms had 20 percent or more women as equity partners, and even fewer--37 percent--met the standard that women make up at least 25 percent of practice group leaders or department heads," reports the NLJ's Karen Sloan.
But what I find glaring--and discouraging--is that so few of the most profitable, established firms are represented on the list. Among the top 20 Am Law 200 firms with the highest profits per partner last year, only three made it: Gibson Dunn, Simpson Thacher, and Skadden Arps.
What's more, of the 32 winners, the vast majority of them--19 firms, including six that are not Am Law 200 firms--seemed to have PPP below $1 million. In fact, some firms had PPP that barely reached $500,000, such as Quarles & Brady ($395,000); Frost Brown ($415,000); Holland & Hart ($465,000); Littler Mendelson ($485,000); Stoel Rives ($490,000); and Davis Wright ($495,000)--and that's not counting the six non-Am Law 200 firms, which likely have PPP on the lower end. Many of the winning firms, noted Tursi to the NLJ, tend to be small and located outside key legal markets.
Not that there's anything wrong with success on a smaller scale in a smaller city. But for women who aspire to make it in the most profitable, prestigious firms, the message is not too encouraging. For now, there seems to be a troubling inverse relationship between high profits and women's rate of success.
Yes, there's progress for women--but not so much on the upper rack.
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