Women in the Law

Best Law Firms for Women Named; Survey Shows Increase in Women Leaders, But No 'Critical Mass'

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The best law firms for women are showing gains in family friendly policies and women in leadership positions, with room yet for improvement.

Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers have named their 2012 50 Best Law Firms for Women, honoring them for “leading the way in attracting, retaining and promoting women lawyers.” An executive summary (PDF) details their group achievements:

• Twenty percent of the top 50 firms are led by female managing partners, compared to 16 percent of the 2007 winners. And 12 percent of the firms have female chairpersons, compared to 2 percent in 2007.

• Seventeen percent of lawyers at the top firms use flexible work arrangements, up from 11 percent in 2011.

• The top 50 law firms offer generous parental leave to their lawyers, including 15 weeks of paid leave to mothers, up from 14 weeks last year. The average of paid leave taken by mothers, however, is 11 weeks.

• Female lawyers in the top 50 firms now hold 21 percent of seats on executive and compensation committees, compared to 19 percent on executive committees and 18 percent on compensation committees in 2011.

• Eighteen percent of equity partners at the top 50 firms are females, compared to a national average of 15 percent.

Despite those gains, the executive summary noted areas for improvement. Vacation and leave time goes unused, indicating a need for law firms to make sure lawyers feel comfortable taking the time to which they are entitled. And though 18 percent of equity partners are female, law firms need to reach a “critical mass level” of 30 percent.

A separate essay (PDF) by Deborah Epstein Henry, president of Flex-Time Lawyers, applauds the new emphasis on a 30 percent critical mass. But she sees another critical issue: the retention of women.

“Nearly one third of women lawyers continue to leave the legal workforce, independent of maternity leave,” she writes. “Talk about critical mass.”

She recommends tracking all levels of female representation; creating an on-ramp allowing talented women on a slower track to return to an advancement track; and breaking down stereotypes that assume all women are destined for the mommy track.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Why Ms. X Is Leaving BigLaw: Busy Mom Details Untenable Schedule in Departure Memo”

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