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About Those Firms that "Nurture" Women

Vivia Chen

August 2, 2018

I have to admit that I squirmed when I read Law.com's headline, "The NLJ 500: Career-Nurturing Firms Win High Rankings on Women-in-Law Scorecard."

It's not that I don't want to celebrate law firms with good track records on female partners. What makes me uncomfortable is the word "nurturing." It makes women seem super-needy, like orphaned baby birds that require special care and feeding for survival. 

And I'm not sure it helps women's image that a senior partner at the No. 1-ranked firm on that list (Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy) suggested to Law.com that other firms adopt "a gentler and kinder approach to running their operations," if they want to attract and promote women. 
I'm all for a "gentler and kinder" approach in law firms, but do we want to imply that women need to be handled with special delicacy? From my experience, female lawyers are tough cookies.
But putting aside my quibble with this "nurturing" stuff, the list of firms that are supposedly super-welcoming to women didn't make me want to break into a happy dance either. (The largest 350 firms of NLJ's 500 were eligible for the list, of which 264 reported data about their female lawyers.)

The reason? Well, the list is super-predictable. Once again, the top 25 or so firms for women are dominated by labor/employment, immigration and other speciality firms or regional/smaller firms. 

Indeed, you have to read through a lot of unfamiliar firm names until you hit a Big Law firm. (Hogan Lovells—28th ranked—is the only major firm to make the top 30 list.) 

Before I get accused of elitism, let me say I'm not putting down practices like labor/employment or regional law firms. There are talented lawyers everywhere in all types of practices. But the reality is that most of the practice areas where women succeed (education, family law, health care, immigration and labor and employment) are much-lower paying and far less prestigious. To use a term that's gotten me in hot trouble, they are pink ghettos

What's more, the NLJ list probably presents a cheerier picture at some firms than what the reality holds, because it doesn't make a distinction between equity and nonequity partners. So firms can play games (unthinkable, right?) and show a respectable percentage of female partners, even though most women at their shops are contract partners with little clout. (Also, why are all the female partners at Jones Day listed as “equity” when we all know it’s a two-tiered system?)

Anyway you look at it, the situation is not that rosy for women in the legal profession. But I'm not at all convinced that making firms more "nurturing" will do the trick either.

Besides, who believes that law firms are in the business of "nurturing"?

Email me: vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist



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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: VChen@alm.com

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