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Am Law 100 Firms That Are Failing Women

Vivia Chen

June 29, 2020

Phone-2840244_1280Every time I see one of those lists of firms where women are “succeeding” or “winning” I want to bang my head against the wall. Why? Because they’re always so damn predictable. And so damn depressing.

Let me cut to the chase: The top dozen or so firms where women are doing fantastically well are never big names such as Cravath Swaine & Moore or Sullivan & Cromwell. Nor are they the most profitable ones. Quite the contrary.

Once again, the latest “best” list compiled by The National Law Journal, “The NLJ 500: Where Are Women Winning?” is nothing to brag about. (The score is determined by adding the percentage of female attorneys and percentage of female partners—equity and nonequity.) With the very notable exception of Ropes & Gray (No. 20 on the NLJ list), the other 19 firms are largely regional firms or firms with low-profit margin practices, such as immigration or labor and employment law.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that the places where women tend to thrive aren’t perfectly good firms. But I am saying that it’s deflating that after three decades of women entering top law schools in droves, these are their best options. Let me put it this way: Would men settle for this list?

In fact, in some major firms, women seem to have made scant progress over the years. Which gets to my bigger point: Instead of celebrating all the humdrum places where women are doing well, let’s call out the big fat firms where women are doing poorly—namely, firms that can’t reach a reasonable threshold for female equity partners.

And what’s that reasonable threshold? Well, considering that women constitute about 20-21% of all equity partners at the nation’s largest firms, anything below that is subpar. But, as you can guess, far too many firms fall short of that mark. To make the list more manageable and concise, I’ve made the cutoff much more generous.

Here, then, are Am Law 100 firms with truly embarrassingly low female equity partner rates—those with 15% or less:

Here, then, are AmLaw 100 firms with truly embarrassingly low female equity partners rates—those with 15% or less:

DLA Piper                  14.5%

Duane Morris            14.7%

Foley & Lardner        11.5%   

Gordon Rees              12.5%

Greenberg Traurig    14.8%

Kramer Levin             10.1%

Locke Lord                  15.0%

Milbank Tweed          13.3%

Nelson Mullins          12.6%

Quinn Emanuel         13.4%

Sheppard Mullin        14.0%

Vinson & Elkins          15.0% (firm did not specify how many have equity)

A very dispiriting list, though Kramer Levin stands out at 10.1% female equity partners. (I asked the firm for a comment, and it sent me this statement: “We are deeply committed to the retention and advancement of women, and we’re headed in the right direction. Over the past three years, for example, 50% of new partners were women. Sixty-two percent of those women started their legal careers at Kramer Levin. And our 2020 summer associate class is 65% women.”)

But let me be clear: It’s inexcusable that there are still mighty Am Law 100 firms with such low female equity partner rates. We’re not talking about smallish firms with a mere 100 or 200 lawyers, where hiring or losing a female partner can have a huge impact on numbers.

Indeed, a mega-firm such as DLA Piper with almost 4,000 lawyers should be able to promote and hire more women into its equity ranks. How is it possible that of the 422 equity partners at DLA, only 61 women qualify for equity? Are the other 361 men truly far superior?

Worse, this is unlikely a complete list of Am Law 100 firms that have a dreadful record with women. Truth is, firms play games and dodge meaningful disclosure.

For instance, more than a half dozen firms failed to disclose how many of their female partners have equity, including Alston & Bird; Boies Schiller; Bryan Cave; Kirkland & Ellis; Sidley & Austin; Troutman Sanders; Vinson & Elkins; and Womble Bond. And though Jones Day claims on the form that all its female partners (25.4%) are equity, that stat has raised doubts and anyway, it’s hard to verify because it’s a black box firm in which partnership status is treated like a state secret.

It’s ironic to call this list a compilation of firms where women are “winning.” Let’s call it for what it really is: Big Law—Where Women Are Still Losing.


Twitter account: @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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