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Women Equity Partnership Rate Hits 19 Percent! Excited?

Vivia Chen

September 19, 2017

Woman-315006_640The National Association of Women Lawyers just released its annual report. And the news flash is this: It's not totally depressing. 

For those of us who've been covering women in the legal profession for over a decade, "depressing" is the usual standard. So why is this report a bit brighter? Well, despite the painfully slow progress, women seem to be on a forward march.

To be sure, though, there's plenty of stasis in the NAWL report, which surveyed the AmLaw 200 firms (90 completed the form), that would frustrate most female lawyers:

- Though firms have been hiring women and men at almost equal numbers out of law schools, few women make it to partnership: Women now represent 19 percent of equity and 30 percent of non-equity partners.

- Men out-earn women at all levels, from staff lawyers to associates to equity partners. (Women make 90 – 94 percent of men's earning in same position.)

- Among equity partners, women work just as many hours as men, but their client billings are 92 percent of those of men.    

- Men dominate the top earner spots: 97 percent of firms report their top earner is a man, and nearly 70 percent of firms have one or no women in their top 10 earners. 

        - Women of color (Black, Asian, Latina) represent only 12 percent of women equity partners and         about 2 percent of all equity partners.

None of this should surprise anyone, but that 19 percent female equity partner rate still popped out at me. While it might seem paltry (it's been over 20 years since women entered law schools in significant numbers), how exciting that women are now on the brink of breaking the 20 percent threshold?

But NAWL's president Angela Brandt isn't so impressed. "You have to remember that in 2006, NAWL issued its challenge for firms to have at least 30 percent women equity partners by 2015," explains Brandt. "So to be 19 percent now is disappointing."

While most of the findings show that women lag behind in just about every category, Brandt points out two areas of progress: Women’s increased participation in firm governance and recent partnership rates.

In the last 10 years, the percentage of women on compensation or management committees, or those serving as managing partners or practice group leaders, has doubled to almost 25 percent. "Firms now recognize the importance of women on governing committees, and that's a promising statistic," notes Brandt.

The other area of promise is that in the last class of equity partners, 33 percent were women. "If that trend continues, we will see an increase in overall numbers," says Brandt.

Women hitting highs in equity partnership rates and management roles: What gives? Among other factors, the report finds that women’s initiatives are doing their jobs: "Women’s Initiatives have emerged as well-accepted, well-utilized efforts for improving the experiences and trajectories of women in law firms." At most firms, says the report, women's initiatives have been incorporated into the firm's strategic vision and include business development training and policy planning. 

Still skeptical that these initiatives are substantive? Well, the report finds a correlation between well-established initiatives and women's progress. The report notes that firms with established initiatives had higher percentages of women equity partners (18 -19 percent compared to 12 percent for firms with newish initiatives). Moreover, the pay gap between female and male equity partners was smaller in firms with more established initiatives. "If you have buy in from the top, support from men, proper resources, plus a focus on strategic goals, these initiatives have better results," says Brandt.

Those initiatives, which we thought were just gripe sessions or excuses for a cocktail party, actually work. Who knew?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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