Survey Reveals Gender Gap in Law Firms Stagnant in Last Decade

New research by the National Association of Women Lawyers reveals things are looking up for women hoping to be law professors or chief legal officers, but not for those aiming to run a law firm.

Despite moves to lessen the gender gap in the workplace, women in law firms aren’t faring any better than a decade ago, according to a new survey from the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL).

Since 2006, the number of women equity partners has only increased by 2 percent to a total of 18 percent. This change is insignificant compared to the number of women who are tenured law professors, which jumped from 25 to 37.5 percent in the same period, or Fortune 500 general counsel, which jumped from 15 to 23 percent since 2004.

We’re hoping that managing partners will look at this survey and be sobered by the numbers and realize it’s time to invest in this.

“If young women are aware of this study, if they understand the results, it may make that in-house job and that tenured faculty position more enticing,” NAWL President Marsha Anastasia said in an interview with Associations Now.

NAWL, which promotes the advancement of women in the law profession, began conducting annual surveys of the 200 largest law firms in 2006 to determine which positions were held by women. With the first survey, NAWL issued a challenge to the industry to increase the number of female equity partners, law professors, and chief legal officers to 30 percent by 2015.

Based on the 73 responses received this year, NAWL not only found that that profession did not meet the 2015 challenge but also that women in law firms still face a pay gap, making only 80 percent of what men are making, down from 84 percent in 2006. In addition, the survey revealed that women generally work more hours than men but bring in less revenue and receive less client origination credit, factors considered in choosing a new equity partner.

“We’re hoping that managing partners will look at this survey and be sobered by the numbers and realize it’s time to invest in this and breakdown what hasn’t worked and really come up with some new approaches to address this and make a change in the numbers in the future,” Anastasia said.

And while law firms are creating women’s initiatives to help women advance in their workplace, Anastasia said insufficient funds are allocated to these programs.

“If it’s important to you at your firm, you spend money on it,” she said. “And if it’s a very small amount, it may not get you where you need to go.”

With the end of its 2015 challenge in sight, Anastasia said NAWL is still considering its next steps.

“My hope is that law firms can maybe take some learnings from the corporations and the law schools [and] see how they can improve on this issue of women equity partners so that we can bring them up and get them to make as much progress as the other two areas have made,” she said.

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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