The 2008 survey shows that women continue to be markedly under-represented in the upper levels of law firms. The majority of women who start as associates in firms do not reach the position of equity partners; law firm leaders, including governing committees and managing partners, are overwhelmingly male.
Highlights of the survey findings include the following facts:
For more than two decades women have graduated from law schools and started careers in private practice at about the same rate as men, yet women continue to be markedly under-represented in the leadership ranks of firms, accounting for fewer than 16% of equity partners.
Only about 6% of law firms report that they have a woman in the highest leadership position of managing partner. The highest governing committee in large firms typically counts only one or two women members although governing committees average 11 to 12 members.
The percentage of women lawyers of color is greatest in the associate category (11%) as compared to women of color who are non-equity partners (3%) or equity partners (1.4%).
The market for lateral partners impacts promotion to equity partner. Laterals account for roughly two-thirds of the women and three-quarters of the men who were newly promoted to an equity position. A startling 31% of new equity partners were recent laterals, suggesting that they were specifically recruited or negotiated for an equity position. The data belie the traditional notion that largely homegrown attorneys are promoted to equity partner.
The survey has captured data on a newly identified category of law firm: the “mixed-tier” firm. In the mixed-tier firm, all “equity” partners are required to contribute capital to the firm but some of them are paid as if they were income partners. About 15% of the nation’s largest firms are mixed-tier firms and preliminary data indicate that women have a somewhat lower chance of advancing to equity partner in mixed-tier firms.
There is evidence that more recent women graduates are being promoted to equity partner at a somewhat greater rate. These numbers show, however, that even in the best of circumstances, women are promoted to equity partner at only about half the rate as men.
At every stage of practice, men out-earn women lawyers, a finding that is consistent with NAWL’S previous surveys and data from other sources. Male equity partners earn on average over $87,000 a year more than female equity partners.
Nearly 97% of large firms have implemented women’s initiatives, which provide a combination of programs on professional development, networking, mentoring and/or business development. Given that women’s initiatives and formal programs for business development skills are relatively new activities in firms, it is too early to say whether these various programs will enhance the level of business development among women lawyers.
For the full NAWL survey visit: http://www.nawl.org/Assets/Documents/2008+Survey.pdf. In addition, NAWL's July 2008 report from its National Leadership Summit, Actions for Advancing Women Into Law Firm Leadership: http://www.nawl.org/Assets/Summit+Report+2008.pdf, provides a list of recommended actions for law firms committed to advancing women into leadership positions.