Ongoing study continues to show women lawyers not treated equally

By Laurie A. Giordano

The Daily Record Newswire

In October 2010, The National Association of Women Lawyers and The NAWL Foundation published a "Report of the Fifth Annual National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms."

The survey is a national study that "annually tracks the professional progress of women in the nation's 200 largest law firms by providing a comparative view of the careers and compensation of both men and women lawyers at all levels of private practice, as well as analyzing data about the factors that influence career progression."

The purported purposes of the survey are: (1) to provide empirical data of how women forge long-term careers in firms and the progress to the highest positions; (2) benchmarking statistics for firms to measure their progress; and (3) providing data for cause and effect analyses of the factors that enhance or impede women's progress in firms.

As we know, more than 20 years ago women progressed to 43 percent of law school graduates and by 2000, the percentage had increased to 48 percent.

The report indicates that the percentage of graduates far exceeds the percentage of women lawyers that ultimately advance within the larger firms examined.

The study also observed that it was not that the women subject to examination did not want to work the hours, or that they would not travel or did not want to take the lead -- so NAWL looked for other possible reasons that the women lawyers were not advancing in greater numbers and at a more rapid rate.

The study found that there has been marked improvement in the availability of programs and policies expected to positively impact the advancement of women.

However, there is still a struggle within these firms to advance women.

A brief summary of the survey revealed that:

(1) Women were markedly underrepresented in leadership;

(2) Women lawyers account for approximately 15 percent of equity partners and this number is essentially unchanged in the last five years;

(3) Few firms report that women are playing major rainmaking roles and about half the firms report that no women at all are within their top 10 rainmakers;

(4) Women equity partners earn less that their male counterparts;

(5) Firms are using more staff and contract attorneys with women representing 60 percent of staff attorneys and there is some evidence of firms using staff attorneys as opposed to letting their own women lawyers work part-time;

(6) Tiered partnerships negatively impact women; and

(7) Women represent 73 percent of fixed-income equity partners as opposed to sharing the profits of the firm.

A further and more detailed analysis of each of these matters is contained within the report.

With respect to conclusions drawn by the NAWL report, it is not surprising that it found that progress for women lawyers in large firms is not occurring quickly.

Further, the evolving structure changes of firms -- such as expansion of jobs at lower levels, increasing use of tiered systems and other non-traditional factors -- along with difficulty in obtaining business development funds and the lower percentage of female equity partners impedes women's advancement at these firms.

However, the response of the participating firms is a positive indication that the progress of women lawyers within these firms is of continuing focus and concern.

Laurie A. Giordano is a founding partner of the Rochester, New York, litigation law firm of Leclair Korona Giordano Cole LLP.

She concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance law, commercial and personal injury litigation and can be reached at or

Published: Mon, Apr 4, 2011


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