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Law Firms Slow to Increase the Number of Women Partners: The Current Statistics and What Clients Can Do to Help Promote Diverse Legal Talent

Law360 recently published its 2019 Glass Ceiling Report, and the numbers continue to reflect that law firms are slow to increase their representation of women at the partnership level.

Law360 reports that women at law firms represent just over 45% of nonpartners, about a quarter of partners, and only 21.5% of equity partners. Those averages are fairly consistent across the board for firms of all different sizes. The numbers reflect a loss of approximately half of women in private practice along the path from nonpartner to partner.

Over the six years that Law360 has tracked these numbers, female partners have grown by 3.6 percentage points.

In contrast to the sea of law firms slow to change, some firms stand out:

In big law, Littler Mendelson PC tops the list again for biggest firms with the highest female representation, boasting 63.6% of female nonpartners, 34.1% of female partners, and 29.6% of female equity partners.

Law360 also found that firms headed by women have higher rates of women overall and higher rates of women partners.

Firms with greater female representation demonstrate that gender diversity goals can be translated to real, measurable results. Sarretta McDonough, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, says that increasing accountability is key: “Until there is some accountability by partners . . . you’re going to continue to see this dysfunction if you will, between incoming percentages and the results for equity partnership at the end.”

Clients can also hold firms accountable, and are stepping up in greater numbers to demand diversity from firms.

Michelle Fang, Turo chief legal officer, has been at the forefront of recent efforts to promote diversity in the industry. In January of this year, 170 GCs penned an open letter to law firms to improve diversity or lose their business. Fang spearheaded the letter, which has since been signed by an addition 60 GCs. After spearheading the GC letter earlier this year, she recently released a list of actionable steps for GCs to follow to promote diverse legal talent – tangible things to do to follow through on the principles espoused by the January open letter. One of her actionable steps to promote diverse legal talent: hire women and minority owned law firms. Her list of steps is a result of talks she has had with DiversityLab, a group promoting diversity in the legal industry through data, and individual leaders in the legal industry diversity space.

Organizations, such as the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), have also established initiatives to encourage corporations to increase legal spending on minority and women-owned law firms. NAMWOLF’S Inclusion Initiative boasts membership of thirty-three companies, including UPS, Walmart, and Morgan Stanley. Since the inception of the initiative, members have spent $1.4 billion for legal services provided by diverse firms.

NAMWOLF’s CEO, discussed the value pitch to clients: “When they start their own law firms they have the same credentials as Big Law.” By hiring diverse firms, clients obtain quality and value, while also supporting diversity and inclusion.

While some law firms have been slow to change, the good news is that more and more clients are demanding diversity, mapping out specific actions that companies and law firms can take to speed things along, and directing their business to diverse firms.

With the numbers of women and minorities that have left larger firms to start their own practices, there is no shortage of talented women and minority attorneys for GC’s to hire.

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