Report: Female Attorneys (Continue To) Struggle At Large Law Firms

June 27, 2014

Business people working in groupTo say that it has been a tough week for female attorneys at Large Law firms is an understatement.

It seems like it has been a tough career.

On Monday, the Women in Law Empowerment Forum released its list of which 200-plus attorney law firms passed its six-point checklist. Most would agree the checkpoints – women represent at least 20 percent of the firm’s governance committee and women represent at least 10 percent of the firm’s top half of the most highly compensated partners – are not what anyone would call outrageously difficult.

Even so, less than half of the AmLaw 100 firms made the list.

That is concerning because it isn’t as though female attorneys are not smart, talented or hard-working enough to join the upper echelons of the legal industry. Their scarcity among the field’s most powerful and highly compensated suggests that the Large Law firm structure, or maybe even the wider legal industry, is, at best, not welcoming to them and, at worst, constructed against their success.

That women have a hard time succeeding in the legal field is not new. Plenty of women graduate from law school these days.  (It is not quite true that more women than men graduate from law school, but the numbers have hovered around parity for the past decade and a half or so.) However, women leave the profession after a few years of practice far more frequently than men do (The Disappearing Female Associate provides interesting commentary on this issue).

And, at least in Large Law firms, female attorneys report struggling with the culture and job satisfaction. As the widely discussed Washington Post article “Large law firms are failing women lawyers” noted this winter, only four percent of the top 200 U.S. law firms have “female, firm-wide managing partners.”

Pulling together all the evidence, it seems women graduate from law school and immediately enter a playing field that hardly seems level. If they do beat the odds and stick with being a practicing attorney at a Large Law firm (which many do not) they are not likely to be rewarded by reaching the highest positions at their respective firms.

Now, to be clear, not every attorney (male or female) needs to be made a partner at a Large Law firm to consider his or her career a success, so it should not necessarily be assumed that every single female attorney at a Large Law firm is unhappy or feels she is being held back.

Even so, the gender-equity gulf at Large Law firms is so wide and has been reported on by so many different sources that it remains a matter of concern.