Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) just announced its 2012 recipients for its "Gold Standard" award. The big news is that 50 firms made the cut this year (last year at this time, only 32 firms met the standard)—and unlike last year, when smaller firms in regional market dominated the list, there are many more big-hitter firms on the most recent one. (Firms with 100 or more lawyers are eligible for consideration.)
Among the new winners: Davis Polk & Wardwell; Goodwin Procter; Nixon Peabody; Ropes & Gray; Sutherland Asbill & Brennan; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. (The complete list follows.)
What I like about the WILEF list is that it's based on cold, hard numbers about how women are faring. (We hear lots of soft anecdotes about how some firms are "good" to its female lawyers.) To get this coveted award, firms have to fulfill three of the following six standards:
• 20 percent female equity partners (this year, 40 percent of firms met this standard; in 2011, it was 41 percent);
• 10 percent female chairs and office managing partners (this year, 82 percent; last year, 81 percent);
• 20 percent female members on firm's primary governance committee (this year, 80 percent; last year, 72 percent);
• 20 percent female members on the firm's compensation committee (this year, 65 percent; last year, 75 percent);
• 25 percent female heads of practice groups or departments (this year, 42 percent; last year, 37 percent);
• 10 percent female representation in the top half of the most highly compensated partners (this year, 82 percent; last year, 84 percent).
This year, three firms met all six criteria, and 13 met five out of the six criteria.
Quite impressive overall. But one thing bothers me: Why is it still so hard for women to reach the equity partnership rank (fewer than half of the winners attained that rank)? In fact, I even noticed a number of firms on the WILEF list where women barely make up 12 percent of equity partners (among others, K&L Gates, Pepper Hamilton, Locke Lord are on that ignominious list, according to The National Law Journal's research).
I mean, if you are going to boast that women are doing so splendidly at your firm, shouldn't a respectable portion of your female partners have equity? Is that really too much to ask?
Apparently, that's also a hot topic of discussion at WILEF. "I'm all for making that 20 percent women equity partner rate a standard for all winners," says WILEF chair Elizabeth Anne "Betiayn" Tursi. Ida Abbott, head of WILEF's certification committee, says WILEF is considering tightening its criteria to make that 20 percent female equity partner rate a baseline. "We don't want to be drastic, but we do want to move the needle," says Abbott. "We want to make it a bit harder so people don't think they can rest on their laurels."
Achieving equity partnership for women, however, is not enough, cautions Tursi: "Even with 20 percent female equity partners, some white-shoe firms won't have women on management or executive committees." These days, she adds, it's easy to find women who head up departments or practice groups, "but men are still controlling the committees that count." Putting a woman in charge of a department is the "new pacifier," says Tursi. "It used to be that they put women in charge of recruiting or diversity."
But the blunt-talking Tursi says she's largely buoyed by the results this year: "I think what's fascinating is that firms are taking all this seriously."
Here's the complete list of the 50 WILEF winners:
Covington & Burling
Crowell & Moring
Davis Polk & Wardwell
Dorsey & Whitney
Epstein Becker & Green
Faegre Baker Daniels
Farella Braun + Martel
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner
Foley & Lardner
Ford & Harrison
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
Frost Brown Todd
Fulbright & Jaworski
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Godfrey & Kahn
Haynes and Boone
Hughes Hubbard & Reed
Holland & Knight
Latham & Watkins
Lindquist & Vennum
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
McCarter & English
Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo
Morrison & Foerster
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Quarles & Brady
Ropes & Gray
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton
Shook, Hardy & Bacon
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Stinson Morrison Hecker
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan
Wilmer Cuter Pickering Hale and Dorr
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