Women in the Law

Have Women's Law School Numbers Peaked? NAWL Report Suggests the Pipeline May Be Shrinking

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The percentage of newer female associates at the nation’s top law firms has dropped by only a single point, but the National Association of Women Lawyers sees significance in the change.

Women make up 47 percent of first- and second-year associates, down from 48 percent in prior years, according to a NAWL survey of the nation’s 200 largest law firms. “It may not be a huge change,” NAWL says in a report (PDF), “but it suggests that the pipeline may be shrinking.” A press release (PDF) has survey highlights.

According to a footnote, the highest percentage of law degrees awarded to women occurred in 2004 and has been declining ever since. “The percentage of women entering law schools may have peaked,” the NAWL report says. In 2009-10, women made up about 47 percent of the law school population and 45.9 percent of all law school graduates.

A small difference in the female-to-male ratio at the associate level becomes more pronounced later as “female flight gains momentum at each level of seniority,” the NAWL report says. At the equity partnership level, only 15 percent of the lawyers are women.

The report notes that women are overrepresented in positions with limited chances for advancement. Women represent 55 percent of staff attorneys, for example, the highest percentage of women lawyers in any law firm position. They hold 34 percent of counsel jobs and 80 percent of fixed-income equity partner positions.

Other findings include:

• Women at every stage of practice earn less than their male counterparts. The biggest difference is at the equity-partner level, where women equity partners earn 86 percent of the amount earned by males.

• A new survey question this year asked law firms how many male and female partners were responsible for generating at least $500,000 in business, the minimum for initial recognition of “business” in many large firms. At the typical firm, women made up only only about 16 percent of partners who received credit for this level of business. Fifty-six percent of women partners were considered relatively “bookless,” compared to 38 percent of men partners.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Men Outnumber Women at Most Top Law Schools, But the Imbalance Is Greater at B-Schools”

The Careerist: “Women Feel Less Ambitious, Says Survey”

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Have Law Firm Structural Changes Created a ‘Pink Ghetto’? Study Raises the Question”

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