Advancing Women in Law Firms

Tuesday’s national teleconference with the ABA’s Woman Advocate Committee discussing the survey data on the retention and advancement of women in law firms was every bit as discouraging as I thought it would be.  NAWL’s 2012 Survey confirms what every annual NAWL survey since 2006 has shown – that the pipeline of increasing numbers of women entering the legal profession over the past 20 years has not resulted in a comparable increase in the number of women at senior levels in law firms.

NAWL surveys the AmLaw 200, the nation’s 200 largest law firms, and for the second year in a row, the survey found the number of women entering BigLaw fewer than the year before.  Women’s median compensation lags men at all levels outside of starting associate salaries, with women equity partners earning on average 89% of what their male colleagues pull down.  No surprise, women still typically hold only 20% of the positions on a firm’s highest governance committee, and only 4% of the AmLaw 200 have a woman as the firm-wide managing partner.

The ABA’s Gender Equity Task Force is working on a toolbox of best practices, including compensation systems, to address these vexing issues.  Yesterday’s call was led by Stephanie Scharf, the NAWL Foundation President, and founder of the survey, and her guidance was to make sure that women’s initiatives are strategic in their focus.  What are the goals for advancing women in your firm, and how are you measuring that?  What programs really work?  Understanding the compensation system is important for everyone, and might be a good place to start.


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