Is there a special virus that's just attacking women at law firms, crippling their ability to rise to the top? You'd think so, judging by how pathetic the situation seems to be for women lawyers everywhere.
If you thought my recent report on NAWL's 2012 study about women in the American legal profession was a downer, this report about our sisters in the United Kingdom will make you feel far worse (or better, if you believe misery loves company). The Lawyer reports that women make up just 9.4 percent of equity partners and 23.5 percent of all partners (equity and nonequity) at the largest 100 U.K. law firms based on revenue.
Shall I say that louder? Women haven't even hit the 10 percent equity mark in the land of the Queen! That certainly mutes our lament about that stagnant 15 percent equity rate for American female partners.
As in this country, no one can pinpoint a reason for the big lag in women equity partners. King & Spalding partner Suzanne Rab, who's also worked for Freshfields and Slaughter and May, told The Lawyer:
It’s tempting to say that this is because of a 24/7 culture or an ‘all boys’ network, but I think that’s quite superficial. I think it’s more to do with the fact that the legal profession is very slow to change—it changes slower than society—and these are places of traditionalism. Change normally only happens if it makes business sense—why would a firm in a relatively good position like the Magic Circle want to change? It takes real courage to change something that may not be perceived to be broken.
The Magic Circle firms tend to be the more "progressive" places, where women exceed that 10 percent equity rate, though not by much. In the elite Magic Circle, "female lawyers constituted 14.6 percent of total partners and around 13.5 percent of equity partners in the 2011–12 financial year." Slaughter and May had the highest rate of female equity partners at 17.4 percent, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had the lowest at 12 percent.
Some U.K. firms have made noises about their plans to increase female partnership. Just recently, The Times reportd that Hogan Lovells announced a 10-year target, aiming for 25 percent female partners by 2017 and 30 percent by 2022 (it currently has 21 percent women partners, though it's not clear how many are equity.) And back in 2009, Clifford Chance, which reports 12 percent female equity partners for 2011, pledged as a long-term target to fill 30 percent of its partnership with women.
Such lofty goals. But how about just matching that pathetic little 15 percent female equity partner rate we have in the USA as a start?
Correction: The original post stated that Slaughter and May's "female lawyers constituted 14.6 percent of total partners and around 13.5 percent of equity partners" for 2011 to 2012. The firm has 17.4 percent female equity partners. We regret the error.
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