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December 16, 2011 Practice Points

NAWL Finds That Fewer Female Lawyers Are Entering Big-Firm Practice

By Angela Turiano

The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) recently released the results of their Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, which found, for the first time since the Survey began in 2006, a noted decline in the number of women entering big-firm law practice. Of specific concern to NAWL is that the results may signal a downward trend for women entering the legal profession generally. The survey also examined the changing structure of law firms and its effect on women and determined that the changes—which include multi-tier partnerships (e.g., equity vs. non-equity, rather than just simply a partner/associate division), and the addition of contract, staff attorney, and of counsel positions—more adversely affected women then men. More specifically, the survey found that firms are more likely to employ staff and contract positions that are typically non-partner track positions with women lawyers who have considerable seniority. With regard to of counsel positions, the survey found that women comprise more than one-third of these positions yet only a minority of firms consider them eligible to become partners.

The study further concluded that women are less likely than men to receive credit for business development and other forms of rainmaking, are underrepresented in law-firm leadership, and continue to earn less than their male counterparts.

Notwithstanding these findings, NAWL was somewhat encouraged to learn that large law firms are aware of the issues with the retention and promotion of women and that 95 percent of firms responding to the survey offer women’s initiatives and other programs designed to assist women with career advancement.

Keywords: NAWL, women, lawyers, big firm, non-partner roles

Angela Turiano works at Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C.

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