Correction, 6/13/13, 9:30 p.m. EDT: The original version of this post stated that Cooley and Jenner & Block are new additions to WILEF's Gold Standard list. Both firms were on WILEF's list last year. We regret the error.
Of the many "best" law firms for women compilations, I find the Women in Law Empowerment Forum's annual list to be one of the meatiest. It's no-nonsense, focusing solely on how women fare in the power and money departments. It doesn't cover which firms offer the widest selection of affinity groups, the most creative alternative work arrangements, or the best lactation rooms. It's all about business, baby.
So are women making it, according to the latest WILEF list? Well, it's a mixed bag. I don't see any reason for despair, but there's not much reason to break out the champagne either. The discouraging news is that fewer firms qualified for WILEF's Gold Standard Certification this year (42 firms, whereas 50 did so last year). The ameliorating factor is that WILEF tightened its standards.
To qualify for that Gold status, firms had to satisfy at least four of the six criteria below (last year, they only had to fulfill three) with respect to women:
- 20 percent of equity partners or 25 percent of the nonlateral attorneys who became equity partner in the past 12 months.
- 10 percent of firm chairs and managing partners.
- 20 percent of the firm’s primary governance committee.
- 20 percent of the firm’s compensation committee.
- 25 percent of the firm’s practice group leaders or department heads.
- 10 percent of the top half of the firm's most highly compensated partners.
Frankly, I thought the standards are rather lenient. How hard could it be for most big firms to meet at least four of these requirements?
Apparently, quite hard. What's notable is that some of the big firms dropped off the WILEF list this year, including: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo; Ropes & Gray; Sidley & Austin; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. (It should be noted, though, that Orrick qualified for the first time this year.)
What gives? "The threshold of having to satisfy four requirements made it difficult for some firms," says WILEF chair Elizabeth Anne "Betiayn" Tursi. A few firms were also thrown out of consideration, she adds, because "they refused to answer questions about compensation—which is pretty basic." Patti Skigen, WILEF's chair for the certification committee, says she's still "hopeful" that more firms will get WILEF's certification in the future, once they become acclimated to the new standards.
Tursi adds that some firms might have fallen behind because some of their female baby boomer partners might have retired or gone in-house. Another explanation she offers is that some went off to start their own firms.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Women's progress in law firms is still fragile. The margin between what qualifies for "good" versus "bad" results is so small that hard-earned progress can quickly disappear.
Below is the complete list of the 42 firms that qualified for WILEF Gold Standard:
Crowell & Moring
Davis Polk & Wardwell
Davis Wright Tremaine
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner
Fredrikson & Byron
Frost Brown Todd
Haynes and Boone
Holland & Hart
Holland & Knight
Hughes Hubbard & Reed
Jenner & Block
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
Latham & Watkins
Leonard, Street and Deinard
Manatt Phelps & Phillips
McCarter & English
Morrison & Foerster
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Quarles & Brady
Shook, Hardy & Bacon
Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Stinson Morrison Hecker
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan