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Do We Need Another "Top" Law Firms for Women List?

Vivia Chen

December 16, 2019

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Sometimes I think there must an entire industry banking on women being clueless. Or just stupid. How else to account for the proliferation of those lists that name the “best” law firms or workplaces for women?

The latest is WomenInc. Magazine’s 2019 top 100 law firms for women. The magazine states that these firms were picked based on their “inclusive advancement, equity and policy for women.”

First of all, holy moly! Who knew that there are now 100 major firms deserving of such an honor? Last I checked, women are underrepresented in just about every measure at most firms. The firms on the list appear to be Am Law 200 firms—which means that the chosen ones are in the top 50%. Whoopee!

So which firms are on the list? Well, this gets a bit interesting. What jumped out was Jones Day, a firm that’s facing two high-profile lawsuits for gender discrimination: one brought by six of its female lawyers and another by former Supreme Court clerks Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff, a married couple who worked at the firm.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that those lawsuits are meritless, it’s still hard to argue that a firm like Jones Day belongs on any “best” list for women.

 

As every Big Law watcher knows, Jones Day operates as a black box on compensation and equity partner matters, meaning no one knows how many female partners have equity or how much they make. Ironically, though, WomenInc. makes a big fuss that it focused on women’s equity status in its selection: “These law firms have purposefully worked to foster inclusion by promoting women attorneys into equity partnership ranks.”

And what firms didn’t make the list? Debevoise & Plimpton; Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer; Littler Mendelson; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr were all conspicuously absent, despite their progressive reputations on the gender front.

All this raises the question of how firms get on these list. (We’ve asked WomenInc. for comment but have not heard back.)

According to WomenInc.’s press release, the publication used “objective criteria” based on “a demonstrated track record of commitment through holistic actions.” Beside looking at how firms hire, retain and promote women, the publication considered work-life balance policies like “parental leaves, flexible work schedules and affinity employee resource groups.”

Nothing exotic there, but WomenInc. maintains: “Recognizing firms that celebrate inclusive expertise is an important opportunity to spotlight organizations with initiatives and agendas that advance and promote women.” What’s more, WomenInc. calls itself “a catalyst for professional women and a media platform that showcases and drives positive dialogue about women.”

Let’s hit the pause button and ask: Why do we have to be positive and chipper when we know that women are making scant progress in firms? Also, what’s that stuff about “commitment through holistic actions?” And what does it mean to celebrate “inclusive expertise”? Talk about corporate hogwash.

What’s clear is that it’s a symbiotic relationship: The company gets to brand itself as an expert on what’s good for women, and firms can use their inclusion in this type of list to promote themselves as pro-women.

Meanwhile, women are supposed to look to these list as some kind of road map for their careers, as if going to one of these preapproved law firms would make their journey safe and smooth.

Come on folks, do you think women are that dumb and desperate?

Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com

On Twitter: @lawcareerist

 

Comments

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I think the statistics speak for themselves. Women make up roughly half the law school students and have for at least 4 decades I recall. If women.

My opinion.

They do NOT make up half the equity partners.

A long way to go before law firms tout their advancement

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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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