As they have done since 2007, the Working Mother & Flex-Time Lawyers Best Law Firms released its 2013 list of U.S. law firms that create and use best practices in retaining and promoting women lawyers. These Best Law Firms lead the industry in supporting flexible work arrangements and offering generous paid parental leave, as well as ensuring that lawyers who take advantage of these programs are not excluded from advancement and/or partnership. Of the 50 Firms chosen, women comprised 25 percent to 50 percent of total lawyers, with the majority falling in the 30 percent range. Further, these firms employ more female equity partners than the national average (19 percent versus 15 percent), which is an increase of one percent is from last year’s numbers.
Highlights of the findings with regard to the Best Law Firms include:
• Women hold 22 percent of Executive, 23 percent of Compensation, and 24 percent of Equity Partner Promotion Committee seats;
• The percentage of women lawyers in the top ten rainmakers at the various firms rose from 69 percent to 78 percent;
• The firms, with the exception of two, allow reduced-work-hour lawyers to be eligible for equity partnership; and
• The firms offer flexible working schedules (Flex-Time) and generous paid parental leave while remaining eligible for equity partnership (96 percent of the firms).
While these findings are promising, there is still room for improvement. For example, at the firms that retained equity partner eligibility for reduced-hour lawyers, on average only one lawyer per firm actually achieved equity partnership.
Moreover, many lawyers are not taking full advantage of what these Best Firms have to offer. Indeed, only nine percent of lawyers at these Firms (compared to the six percent national average) actually utilized flextime, noting that while male and female associates and counsel used flextime at comparable rates, among equity partners, more than three quarters of the users were men. Further, women, on average, took only 13 of the 14 weeks of the paid maternity leave offered.
Across the board, the firms had common practices for retaining women and advancement in the law firm environment, which included women’s initiatives, mentoring programs, and options for flexibility in work schedules:
• Women’s Initiatives: The firms encourage women’s initiatives that focus on internal networking, educational sessions, discussion groups, and workshops on topics such as strategies, sponsorship, leadership development, and business development and/or promote women’s leadership training programs for female attorneys.
• Mentoring: At the majority of the firms, women lawyers receive formal training and mentoring in litigation and business development. At some firms, this mentoring is done by both peers and partners to develop long-range career goals and plans to achieve those goals or associates choose a partner mentor and are coached on business development.
• Flexibility: Most all of the firms participated in flextime, reduced hours, or telecommuting. Some firms allowed attorneys to take unlimited paid time off as long as they make billable hour requirements. The majority of the firms offered childcare or access to childcare and fitness facilities.
Overall, what these 50 firms display is a dedication to the advancement of women lawyers resulting in an increasing number of women lawyers, more women equity partners, and more significant numbers of women participating in senior management. These firms have robust women’s initiatives, mentoring programs, and flexibility in work schedules. These actions speak volumes and are what put these firms at the top.
Keywords: woman advocate, women professionals, law firms, best practices, women’s initiatives, flex-time, mentoring