Background Information

In 2006, the First Annual National Association of Women Lawyers Survey reported that for more than 15 years, 50 percent of law school graduates had been women yet for a number of years, only about 15 percent of law firm equity partners and chief legal officers had been women.  Almost ten years later, data taken from the Ninth Annual NAWL Survey reveals not much has changed: 

Firms have made no appreciable progress in the rate at which they are promoting women into the role of equity partner. The data demonstrate that women still comprise only approximately 18 percent of equity partnership.

Not only do the responses to the questions about equity partner elevation demonstrate the lack of progress for women, the data also suggest that the opportunities for equity partnership in general are diminishing for both male and female associates. For those who began their careers at their law firm, the overall elevation rates are lower than for lateral attorneys. Of new equity partners promoted in the year prior to the survey, the typical firm had one female equity partner who started with the firm and one who was a lateral. For men, the typical firm promoted one lawyer into the equity partnership who started with the firm and five who were laterals.

Men continue to be promoted to non-equity partner status in significantly higher numbers than women. Among the non-equity partners who graduated from law school in 2004 and later, 38 percent were women and 62 percent were men. This data remain vexing in light of the longstanding pipeline of women, as women have been graduating from law school in nearly equal numbers for decades.

The data continue to be challenging for other diverse groups. Lawyers of color represent 8 percent of the law firm equity partners. LGBT lawyers comprise 2 percent of equity partners.

The compensation gender gap remains wide. Not one of the responding law firms reported having a woman as its highest earner. Moreover, the gap between what women equity partners earn compared to men is striking: the typical female equity partner earns 80 percent of what a typical male equity partner earns.

Women continue to be under-represented on law firm compensation committees, yet law firms that report more women on their compensation committee have narrower gender pay gaps. In the 12 firms that reported having two or fewer female members on the compensation committee, the typical female equity partner earns 77 percent of that earned by a typical male equity partner. In the 18 firms that reported three or more women on the compensation committee, the typical female equity partner earns 87 percent of that earned by a typical male equity partner.

Men continue to outpace women in obtaining rainmaking credit. Moreover, client relationships are frequently passed down to the fortunate beneficiaries who inherit the internal credit, often with little client input on the decision. This year’s survey shows a wider gender gap in client origination credit than last year. Among the firms that provided data regarding the gender of the 10 lawyers who generated the highest amount of revenue, 88 percent of the Top 10 were men and 12 percent were women. Similar to last year, approximately a quarter of the firms report that the current relationship partner selects his or her successor, meaning that valuable client credit is, in essence, an inheritance that can be passed from one individual to another.

There is a gender gap in revenues generated from client billings, even as women report overall higher working hours. The typical female equity partner bills only 78 percent of what a typical male equity partner bills. When asked to report total client billable and non-billable hours, however, the total hours for women equity partners exceeded the total hours for men equity partners. The median hours reported for the women were 2,224 and, for the men, were 2,198. The data raises questions about whether committee assignments, hourly billing rates, and the distribution of pro bono hours contribute to disparities in client billings.

Women continue to be under-represented on the highest governance committees. The typical firm has two women and eight men on their highest U.S.-based governance committee. Women do slightly better in achieving these key leadership roles at AmLaw 100 firms, compared to the Second Hundred, but both groups report numbers that demonstrate limited progress when compared to the decades-long pipeline of women in the profession.

Every respondent reported having a Women’s Initiative, but the budgets allocated to these efforts reinforce that women’s affinity groups lack sufficient resources to accomplish strategic goals. Seventy-five percent of the responding law firms reported having a formal budget for their Women’s Initiative, which is lower than the 80 percent reported in the NAWL Foundation’s 2012 survey of Women’s Initiatives. Even as the responses indicate the limited overall financial resources available for Women’s Initiatives, there is a significant variance between the average budgets in AmLaw 100 firms and the lower budgets reported in the Second Hundred. The median annual budget for the AmLaw 100 is $112,500; for the Second Hundred, the median annual budget is $82,000. Half of the reporting AmLaw 100 firms report that their Women’s Initiative annual budget is $100,000 or less; only 25 percent report that the budget exceeds $200,000. None of the Second Hundred firms report an annual budget of $200,000; 73 percent report being in the $100,000 or less category.

Training programs vary significantly. Of note, 20 percent of the respondents reported that they do not provide training on diversity and inclusion, 26 percent reported that they do not provide training on unconscious bias, and 57 percent do not train on the topic of micro-inequities.

There are more male associates than female associates in the U.S. offices of the respondents, including at the more junior and senior levels, suggesting that women may be turning elsewhere for greater professional fulfillment. Women comprise 44 percent of associates. Even as the AmLaw 100 firms have more female associates than the Second Hundred, the AmLaw 100 also employs more females designated as staff attorneys.

WOMEN LAWYERS CONTINUE TO LAG BEHIND MALE COLLEAGUES:  Report of the Ninth Annual NAWL National Survey On Retention And Promotion Of Women In Law Firms

Lauren Stiller Rikleen


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