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Large law firms stuck in ‘industry groupthink’ fail female attorneys, consultant says

Posted Feb 19, 2014 5:28 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Despite offering increased opportunities and flexible schedules to women attorneys in recent years, major law firms are still lacking in the diversity and innovative thinking that would make a difficult work environment easier for female associates to navigate, an author and consultant says.

Particularly when it comes to finding a mentor to explain the rules of the BigLaw game and provide backup as a young attorney plays it, women starting out are handicapped by a lack of powerful female partners to point them on pathways to success and potentially bequeath them books of business, writes Selena Rezvani at the Washington Post's On Leadership blog (reg. req.).

As a result, women―who, like their male counterparts, find the job demanding and draining―are dropping out of partnership-track BigLaw positions in greater numbers, Rezvani says.

"You can draft as many pro-employee policies as you like, but unless women are co-creators in the firm’s strategy, they will not shape the culture. Women must hold positions―I’d argue half of them―on the influential, high-ranking committees that make everyday decisions."

She says a lack of diversity within BigLaw firms and these firms' reluctance to rely on nonlawyer consultants keeps them "from breaking away from industry groupthink and adopting new styles of operating," Rezvani writes. An old-school culture at a law firm can stymie and stifle women lawyers, who, more so than many of their male colleagues, have to balance work and family responsibilities.

And it isn't just female associates who would benefit from a more supportive work environment, Rezvani writes, no matter what the reasons are for current barriers to success.

"Blame it on the schadenfreude of partners who came up years ago. Or on a faulty deference for how things were done in the past that undermines firms’ new well-intentioned policies. Or on a law firm culture that is perhaps more 'locked,' hierarchical and non-negotiable than we think. Yet the fact remains that expensive institutional knowledge continues walking out the door, and law firms should be doing something about it."

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "Multiple Women Make Partner at Some Firms, While Others Promote All-Male Classes"

ABAJournal.com: "Survey Finds ‘Deep Vein of Anger’ Among Women Partners Over Law Firm Pay Gap"

ABAJournal.com: "Women JDs Experience Less Pay Disparity than Women MBAs, Expert Says"

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