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ABA President Laurel Bellows Reacts to First National Survey of Women’s Initiatives in Law Firms

ABA President Laurel Bellows Reacts to First National Survey of Women’s Initiatives in Law Firms

By Matthew (Matt) Stegen

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 15, 2012 — American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows today responded to the first-ever national survey of women’s initiatives in law firms, conducted by the NAWL Foundation, the research and charitable arm of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL).

“Hopefully, this survey will help us define a gender equity conversation that is serious and immediate with law firms in this country,” Bellows said.

The survey revealed that firms are not devoting enough resources to women’s initiatives, despite the positive effect that strong women’s affinity groups can contribute to law firms’ business. Although 97 percent of large U.S. firms sponsor a women’s initiative, only 42 percent of firms report that their women’s initiative is part of the firm’s strategic plan. Eighty percent of law firms identify an objective for their women’s initiative, but it is unclear whether objectives are written and linked to specific goals, such as retention or advancement. And while a little more than half of firms sponsor firmwide meetings of women partners, only 29 percent of firms consider such events to be effective.

“These statistics confirm what women, particularly in large firms, already know, which is that women are not receiving the kind of support that translates into equity partnerships and true leadership positions,” Bellows said.

The survey also looked at how women’s initiatives can move to the next phase. Its recommendations included having fewer “soft” programs, such as networking functions, and more programs that target the factors that directly affect advancement in firms. The survey also found that women’s initiatives require more funding: The typical law firm spends far less on its women’s initiatives than on the salary of one first-year associate.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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