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Women in the Law

Study Finds ‘Astounding’ Absence of Women in Top Rainmaking Roles

Posted Oct 26, 2009 4:50 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A new study has found that women are “terribly underrepresented” in the ranks of major rainmakers at top U.S. law firms.

The study by the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation asked the nation’s top 200 law firms to list the gender of their top 10 rainmakers. The “astounding” results: Forty-six percent have no women at all among their top 10 rainmakers, and 32 percent have only one woman in the top 10.

“The results are astounding, even to those of us familiar with the dynamics of legal business development,” according to the study (PDF).

The reason for the underrepresentation isn’t clear, according to the authors. The study cites several possibilities. The lack of top women rainmakers could be a function of less aggressive rainmaking, the flow of inherited clients to men, a lack of opportunities to participate in business development, or inadequate credit for business development.

The lack of women rainmakers is tied to pay differences between male and female partners. In firms where no women are in the top 10, women partners make a median of $81,000 less than their male counterparts. In the few firms that had three or four women among their top 10 rainmakers, the median difference in pay between male and female partners was only $11,000.

Other survey findings:

• The median pay for male equity partners was $565,200 and the median for female equity partners was $499,350, a difference of about $66,000. Last year’s survey found that women equity partners made $87,000 less than males. The gender gap may have lessened this year because of declining compensation levels that hit males harder, in percentage terms.

• Men and women laid off from law firms were generally cut in rates proportionate to their numbers as associates and partners. There was one exception: Layoffs of part-time lawyers fell disproportionately on women, even after taking into account that women fill the majority of part-time positions. Virtually all of the part-time lawyers laid off were women.

• In the typical firm, women make up 48 percent of first- and second-year associates. By the seventh year, the ranks of women have dropped slightly to 45 percent. But the situation worsens at higher levels. On average, women constitute 34 percent of of-counsel, 27 percent of nonequity partners, and 16 percent of equity partners.

• Eighty-five percent of recent equity lateral hires were men, and only 15 percent were women.

• Women play “a surprisingly small role” in the highest levels of firm leadership. The highest governing committee at the average large law firm is made up of only 15 percent women. Only about 6 percent of law firms have women managing partners, a small increase from 2006, when only 5 percent of the managing partners were women.

The survey was sent to the nation’s top 200 law firms, and 116 responded. Some of the respondents, however, declined to answer questions on compensation and layoffs.

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