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Women in Law: Make Rain or Sink

Women in Law: Make Rain or Sink

The Ninth Annual Survey by National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) is out, and the statistics continue to be dismal. Here are some highlights:

  • Women still comprise 18% of equity partnership, only 2% higher than in 2006.
  • Men were promoted to Non-equity partner at a significantly higher percentage than women: Among non-equity partners who graduated from law school in 2004, 38% were women and 62% were men
  • The Compensation Gender Gap has gotten wider: Female equity partners earn 80% of what typical male equity partners earn – which is down from 84%.
  • Women are underrepresented in governance committees: A typical firm has 2 (or fewer) women and 8 men on their highest US based governance and compensation committees.
  • Men continue to outpace women in rainmaking credit: 88% of top ten producers are men and 12% were women, down from 16% last year.
  • Typical female equity partner bills only 78% of what a typical male partner bills

Vivia Chen of the Careerist’ article, Women in Big Law are Losing Ground, cited the most alarming statistic about the report: only 37% of Am Law 200 firms responded to the survey. In perspective, 69% of Am Law 200 firms responded in 2008.  Of the 73 participating firms, only 41 firms would even answer what gender its highest paid partners are. So, why aren’t firms willing to participate in sharing their facts about the women in their firms? It’s not likely that the reason is because the numbers are getting better – because they aren’t.

This report is highly relevant to women in criminal defense for a number of reasons. First and foremost, many of our colleagues are in big law firms and living out these statistics first hand.  And for those of us in midsize, small, or solo practices, these statistics reflect the reality of where we stand in the legal profession as a whole.  If women in institutional firms are struggling to find equality, it is obvious that it will be equally difficult – if not worse – for those of us in smaller firms.
The key takeaway from these statistics is that women need to focus on making rain, or we will continue to sink. I know there are many factors in BigLaw that affect a woman partner getting “origination credit,” but women need to be fighting for those credits and focusing on continuing to originate business.  The women who are able to gain positions of strength in a firm should be reaching back to help the other women learn how to originate business.  Some women are natural promoters, but the vast majority of women struggle at this. Women need to be talking about their businesses, asking for business, and actively networking.  I understand the reasons why women are still struggling in BigLaw are complicated, but we need to focus on solutions. We need to stop waiting around for the person in power to hand us our seat at the table, and start demanding it. When we focus on making rain we have the power to demand our seat at the table. And this strategy works – whether you are in Big Law or a solo practice, so stopping worrying about where you are seated and focus only on increasing business for yourself!!


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