Women in the Law

Women Partners Say They're Still Forced into Support Roles at Firms #ABAChicago

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While some law firms are leading the charge to promote women and minority partners to management positions, others remain dominated by the “white man’s voice,” and gender bias that keep these lawyers out of compensation discussions and away from origination credit, Pfizer Inc. general counsel Amy Schulman said today at the 2009 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

A panel of general counsel, law firm managing partners, and industry insiders discussed, and sometimes sparred, on this issue at a session titled ” ‘The Credit Crisis’: How Compensation Practices Adversely Affect the Advancement of Women and Minorities in the Law, and How We Must Change Them.”

“We need to recognize and validate those other voices,” Schulman said. “Pfizer does most work on a flat-fee rather than hourly basis, which changes the model that rewards hours.” Twice as many male lawyers with children work 60-plus hours a week as female lawyers, and women lawyers are only 50 percent as likely to be married to a homemaker as men, according to a recent study by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

Schulman also dismissed the notion that origination, a top factor for law firm bonuses that is often awarded to dominant male partners, is important to clients. “We are completely unconcerned with origination and much more concerned with who connects us,” she said. “Lawyers who are needlessly possessive are obvious to us and very limiting.”

Hunton & Williams and Reed Smith have both moved away from placing emphasis on origination credit in recent years, their managing partners—Walfrido Martinez and Gregory Jordan, respectively—told the panel.

The gender gap between women lawyers and their male counterparts is more than $140,000 at firms with high hourly requirements and $51,000 at firms with lower hourly thresholds, said Joan Williams, director of the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, citing the study. Women and minority lawyers also face the double whammy of high billing requirements and taking on undervalued, nonbillable activities that often land on their doorsteps, such as running summer associate programs, diversity initiatives and associate development, Williams said. Female partners who demand more substantive management roles often receive negative feedback from male clients and within the firm, Williams added. Whereas those who willingly embrace traditional supporting roles, which she calls the “mother, princess, pet” tasks, are praised.

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