The National Association of Women Lawyers just issued their 2012 Report outlining the status of women in the top 200 firms. There are already a number of publications buzzing over the frightening statistics that are found in the report. The Above the Law blog titled their comments “The Women of Big Law Are Still Trapped in Staff Attorney Binders” and quoted a great summary of the report by Vivia Chen from the Careerist, some of which is included below:
“• That cursed 15 percent figure again. Women make up barely 15 percent of equity partners, and just 26 percent of non-equity partners.
• There’s no shortage of women in lower-status positions. Women represent 46 percent of associates, 35 percent of counsel, and 70 percent of staff attorneys.
• Women lag behind in business. ‘Women partners are credited with a smaller median book of business than men, even though their business development efforts may be substantial,’ reads the report.
• Compensation decisions are made in a black box. ‘The gap between the median compensation of male and female equity partners cannot be explained by differences in billable hours, total hours, or books of business.’
• Women partners lack clout. Women hold only 20 percent of the positions on a firm’s highest governance committee, and only 4 percent of firms have a firm wide female managing partner.”
Now what does this have to do with those of us in the criminal defense field? We are in fact a very different breed than our large law firm sisters aren’t we? Not 100% true. We are all in this together and there are many phenomenal women criminal defense attorneys working in large firms focusing on white collar. That isn’t the only reason to care. The large law firms are a snapshot of what is occurring for women in law. I would be interested to explore the number of women in the public arena such as State Public Defender’s Offices or Federal Public Defender’s Offices from around the country and their status within those government organizations. In Miami two women have held the highest positions at local government law offices with the Honorable Kathleen M. Williams heading the Federal Public Defender’s Office for many years and Katherine Fernandez Rundle at the helm of the State Attorney’s Office. So why is there such a large disparity between men and women in the big law firms? Firms are obviously assuring that they are meeting their diversity quota by hiring women but the NAWL Report makes it clear that women aren’t being entrusted to leadership positions in the same way that men are. Could it be that women lack mentors that help them to the top at these firms? I certainly wonder if this is a part of the problem.
I do believe that we have a unique opportunity to help change the landscape. Many of us are our own bosses and don’t have to answer to someone else or rely on others to decide our worth or compensation. There is nothing holding many of us back from succeeding in private and public sectors or striving to hold positions of leadership. Forming community does not take away from any of us; it serves to boost us all up. What I take from the NAWL report is that we all need to open ourselves to mentoring, hiring other women, and supporting one another in business and law.