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Women lose out in large law firms

Women lose out in large law firms

Big law firms are not doing enough to elevate women to the upper ranks of private practice, new data has revealed.

BIG law firms are not doing enough to elevate women to the upper ranks of private practice, new data has revealed. 

While big law firms in the cities grab a lot of attention for their women lawyer initiatives, in truth, they are not doing very much to elevate women into the higher ranks. The reality is regional and medium size firms have more women in the upper echelons than their big firm counterparts, reports The American Lawyer.  

Of the nearly 180 firms in the AM Law 200, who submitted data on women and diversity for the study Women in Law Firms, almost 60 per cent of the Am Law 200 firms reported at least 19 per cent women partners. A surprising statistic given that on average, women make up just 18 per cent of all partners at Am Law 200 firms, according to research.

In contrast, only 41 per cent of the Am Law 100 firms achieved that rate. (For all 210 firms included in the Women in Law Firms study, including some non-Am Law 200 firms, the average percentage of female partners at the firms was 19 per cent.)

The gap between the second hundred and first hundred firms is significant-but there is more to the discrepancy. While female partners are more prevalent at second hundred firms, those women still aren't necessarily reaching the most coveted spot in a law firm: equity partnership. 

Among the 20 firms reporting the highest proportion of women partners, the percentage of equity partners who are women varies from a high of 27.3 per cent for Ice Miller to a low of 8.6 per cent for Carlton Fields. On average, firms have 16 per cent female equity partners nationwide, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Three of the AM Law 200 firms with the highest percentage of women equity partners include Boston's Goulston & Storrs (22.5 per cent); Indianapolis's Ice Miller (27.3 per cent); and Los Angeles's Manatt, Phelps & Phillips (22.8 per cent). 

Along with strong women representation these firms share some common characteristics. They are all relatively small and not highly leveraged; all three firms have practices that tend to be diverse and not purely based on finance. And then there is the culture of the practices. All three firms have some history of left-of-center politics, The American Lawyer reports. 

However, even so women didn't make partner at these firms until the women's movement was well underway. Ice Miller had its first female partner in 1979; and both Goulston and Manatt waited until the early 1980s to make their first women partners. 

Since then, though, women have risen to the top of firm management at both Manatt and Ice Miller, which have elected women managing partners: Maria Hummer at Manatt in the early 1980s and Melissa Proffitt Reese at Ice Miller from 2004 to 2007.

At Goulston, partner Marilyn Sticklor set an early example that equity partners can work part-time. She made partner while pregnant with her second child, and went on to have two more children while working four days a week, a schedule she kept for 14 years. Four other women at the firm became equity partners in the 1980s while also working on a part-time or flextime schedule. 

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