'Best' Law Firms for Women? Really?

They're doing everything right—but they still lag when it comes to making female equity partners.

, The Careerist


I'd love to say that these lists signal an abundance of opportunities for women in law. But that's not how I see them. I find these lists confusing, if not misleading. And sad. 

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What's being said

  • Throwback

    I find it comical at best that this is even a thing let alone that there is a cottage industry in the blogosphere that follows, and presumably corresponding readers that care about, whether a the gilded class literally give their female attorneys equity. Here in the real world, no one gives attorneys sh*t. I just can‘t bring myself to care about whether a certain demographic of the one-percenters are being handed more at an equitable pace. This is Title VII‘s legacy?

  • Logic

    In response C. Darrow‘s comment: Women‘s enrollment in law school has been at least 50% since I enrolled in the early 90s. The excuse used to be that we needed to wait until more women were in the profession and had gotten to the partnership level before we would see results. Here we are 25 years last - certainly long enough that 2 generations of women attorneys could have made partner - and the percentage of women equity partners is still a paltry 18% Women attorneys are often excluded from pitches, or not given credit for client business and are often paid less for the same level of work. Firms should be doing more to include them and give them accurate credit (instead of letting the "old boys‘ club run roughshod over women‘s efforts) and then perhaps they will advance faster and more frequently. You state that women should be happy with the discrimination against them because they are making six figures and they are not a "12yo Rohingya orphan starving and fearing rape" - as if it is an either or proposition: be discriminated against or be starving. (I suppose with that "logic" African-Americans should be grateful every time they have an encounter with the police that doesn‘t end in their murder.) While it is always best to be grateful for what one has, saying that a woman cannot speak up about being discriminated against is ridiculous. (Is C. Darrow even an attorney with this kind of "logic"??)

  • C. Darrow

    Actually, Ms. Ekelman, it‘s rather easy to argue against making more gender parity efforts. Clients pay for results, and women and men should be rewarded for producing results, regardless of their gender. If you wanna swim with the sharks, than pull up your pantyhose and do so. Otherwise, be happy you‘re making a few hundred grand a year in the greatest time and place for women in human history and thank your lucky stars you‘re not a 12yo Rohingya orphan starving and fearing rape in a Bangladeshee refugee camp. Meanwhile, as Ms. Chen keeps beating this gender-equity dead horse for NLJ, smart clients will move away from the firms she identifies as women-friendly.

  • Felice Ekelman, Jackson Lewis P.C.

    While it is hard to argue against the concept that the legal profession can and should be doing more as far as gender parity efforts, I do not agree these rankings are misleading, and that firms are being rewarded for effort rather than results. I do agree that the “proof in the equality pudding” is how many women are elevated to equity partner, which is why Jackson Lewis continues to be represented in the aforementioned lists. We have a culturally ingrained emphasis on grooming talent in-house. We want our women to clear the equity threshold and become top rainmakers in the firm, and we are giving them the tools to do that. More than 75% of our female equity principals- including myself – came up through our ranks. These efforts include challenging our female attorneys the same ways as our male lawyers – giving them first-chair experience in the courtroom, encouraging them to pursue firm leadership positions and making sure their compensation is in line with that of their male counterparts. As a result, we’re not just retaining and promoting our women attorneys – they’re also becoming the top earners within the firm. 48% of our Principals are women, up from 24% in 2009. More significantly, and addressing the point made in this article, females make up 27% of our equity principals, up from 19% ten years ago and 23% five years ago. Yes, we have work to do…but our efforts are not just lip service. They are getting results. While I know I am lucky to have spent time in a firm that rewards my contributions, I do not feel this is an anomaly. The legal profession certainly is not perfect (and I would be hard pressed to identify an industry that is), but opportunities for women will continue to improve with firms, clients and colleagues who recognize the need and value of female voices in all arenas of the profession and demand they continue to be heard.

  • Anonymous

    You might also want to consider professional staff that work at law firms. Often firms that are lauded as "best for women" really means "best for women who are attorneys." The female professional staff - from administrative assistants and paralegals, to those working in marketing departments, knowledge management departments, IT, etc. - are not given the same family-friendly benefits as female attorneys. This includes professional staff who also have JDs, but are working in the firm as administrators instead of attorneys. Perhaps these firms are the best for women attorneys, but they are not the best for all women who work there.

  • Anon

    I‘d like to see the percentage of female equity partners broken down by practice area, too. You noted higher percentages in L&E, Immigration, and Family. These practice areas typically have lower billing rates. Is there an inverse correlation between hourly rates and percentage of female equity partners? Something tells me I already know the answer.

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