Law People

Five New Studies on Diversity in Law

The last few months have seen five new studies relating to diversity and the practice of law:

1.  A new study by the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Professions entitled “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms” found that few women of color are offered equal opportunity and most choose to leave their firms rather than stay and fight for equality.   One of the study’s promoters decried how similar the results are to the results in the studies her committee conducted on the same issues in the 1990s. While, largely in response to client demands, more law firms are attempting to hire for more racial diversity, few pay attention to what happens once these women actually start working at the firm. The attrition rate for these lawyers, according to NALP, reaches nearly 100 % within eight years. At least one reason for their lack of success is laid to the lack of like-situated mentors. While there is a tendency to believe we are past the overt discrimination, 49% of women and 34% of men of color reported harassment or discrimination, compared to 47% of white women and 2.5% of white men. However, the primary reason women of colored reported for leaving legal practice was to obtain greater work-life balance, which is also the most frequently reported reason for all other groups surveyed to leave.

2.  The Inside Counsel/Dickstein Shapiro Diversity Survey, published October, 2006, focused on the diversity progress in corporate law departments based on 377 in-house counsel responses, including 19% participation from general counsel, with respondents being 70% white,14% black; 7% Hispanic and 7% Asian. 

The primary findings of that study are consistent with the ABA report above that looked at law firms, including: 

§         Legal departments lack racial diversity.  "The average legal department that responded had 46 attorneys of which 3.5% are non-Caucasian;  the median department employs 11 attorneys of which 1 is non-white."

§         Less than 9% of legal departments are headed by non-Caucasian general counsel

§         Senior leadership fails to set goals--only 32% of companies surveyed had formal diversity polices.

§         Commitment from the GC and CEO is essential, although often leadership compensation is not tied to meeting diversity goals.

3.  “Presumed Equal: What America’s Top Women Lawyers Really Think About Their Firms” surveyed 16,000 lawyers to report on what women attorneys experience in law firms, updating a 1993 report and its 1998 followup. The report found that many women believe their firms don’t provide opportunities to make partner or foster an environment that values diversity and family.  The survey looks to general trends in disparate treatment that women experience at various law firms and highlights specific weaknesses of 105 individual firms ("most prestigious law firms in the US"). It scores the firms based on responses and ranks them nationally and by geographic location.

Since it was initially created to assist law students in their consideration of job opportunities, this survey attempts to provide a discourse about what it is like to be a woman at a top law US law firm and evaluates environment for women to achieve personal goals such as (i) making partner, (ii) finding a mentor, and (iii) life balance.

The report concludes, "Objective indicators still show a disparity between the relative power held by men and women in the legal field and indicate that gender is still relevant to women's success." 

The report also finds "that long-term professional satisfaction for women is not based on the quality of a woman's work. At present, the reluctance of male dominated partnerships to mentor female attorneys, the persistance of gender biases regarding women's roles, and the tacit penalties that women endure for taking advantage of maternity leave, to name only a few dynamics at play, still profoundly shape women's experience within the legal profession."

4.  "Creating Pathways to Success: Advancing and Retaining Women in Today's Law Firms, " issued by the Women's Bar of DC in May 2006, examined better ways to stem the departure of women from law practice.  While the report includes many specific actions, the findings generally are that there are more stumbling blocks to the success of women in law practice than are currently being addressed by the commonly used methods of supporting and promoting women.  The most common current practices focus on specific programs in specific business areas in a silo-like approach.  The stumbling blocks, however, cross broad issues and fields but unite on the key issues of  how women can achieve the level of business success they expect of themselves consistent with societal demands and personal creativity.  

5.  In October 2006, the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) reported on its survey of the American Lawyer Media's 200 largest firms, measuring the comparative role of female lawyers at different levels of seniority, types of partnership opportunities, where women stand in relation to men in firm governance and comparative compensation at the same levels of seniority.  According to NAWL, the survey findings reflect the situation at law deparatments as well.

With responses from 103 of the 200 firms (and against the background that women have been 50% of law school graduates for each of the past 15 years), women constitute:

§         16% percent of equity partners

§         26% of non-equity partners

§         28% of "of counsel" or other special counsel positions

§         45% of associates

Looking at the 16% representation among equity partners, in an era when partnerships are made within 7-10 years, many of us would have expected greater gender parity at all but the most senior levels of law firm partnership. 

The statistics also reveal that of the 16% percent of all equity partners, women are more heavily represented among the more junior classes of equity partners, constituting 21% of equity partners who graduated law school between 1990 and 1995, and 24% of those who graduated in 1996 or later.

But NAWL warned that the trend emerging from such figures is unclear, noting that women who have recently become equity partners could yet leave the profession, and that even at 24 percent of equity partners, women are substantially under-represented relative to their 45 percent of the total number of associates.  

In terms of leadership positions:

§         16% of the members of law firm governance committees are women. 

§         15% of the firms reported that up to 25% of the members of the highest governing committee were women

§         10% of responding firms reported that there were no women on the highest governing committee

§         5% of managing partners are women.

As to compensation, of 62 firms responding, 92% said that the highest paid lawyer was male.  Of the 35 firms that provided compensation breakdowns, male equity partners were paid an average of $510,000 whereas female equity partners averaged compensation was $429,000.  The survey recognized that the higher number of men at senior partnership levels could account for the significant difference in compensation.

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