May 20, 2013 Practice Points

The ABA's Gender Equity Task Force—We Still Aren't There Yet

By Roberta Liebenberg

Even though women have been graduating from law schools and entering the profession in numbers nearly equal to men for the past two decades, women lawyers continue to lag behind their male counterparts in terms of compensation, advancement to equity partner status, and the attainment of positions of real power and influence. To change this long-standing paradigm and develop specific and concrete strategies and solutions that enable women lawyers to advance and succeed, ABA President Laurel G. Bellows created the Gender Equity Task Force in 2012.

President Bellows appointed a blue-ribbon group of women and men to carry out the important work of the task force, which has worked hand in hand with the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. The task force has established six working groups, each of which has focused on specific areas of concern to women in the profession and society at large.

Women Lawyers’ Compensation
This working group is taking a multipronged approach to the critical issue of women lawyers’ compensation. There is a significant disparity in compensation between male and female lawyers, which increases with seniority. The pay gap is largest at the equity partner level. There is a close correlation between compensation and the ability to achieve a leadership position on management, executive, and compensation committees at law firms. Moreover, the disparity in compensation contributes to the disproportionately high rate of attrition of women from law firms. This adversely affects law firms, which have invested substantial time and resources in training and developing their women lawyers. It also adversely affects clients, who lose the women lawyers who have built up an institutional knowledge of the clients’ business and upon whom the clients have relied to handle their matters. Thus, achieving pay equity for women lawyers is a profoundly important business imperative.

The compensation working group has developed a pay equity toolkit for state and local bar associations to use to educate their members about the existence of the disparity in pay between men and women lawyers and the reasons for that disparity. The group is also drafting model compensation policies and suggested best practices for law firms to implement. In addition, the group is developing a pamphlet to advise women on how to negotiate more effectively for their compensation entitled, “What You Need to Know About Negotiating Compensation.” Working with several general counsels, the group is also developing written materials that can be used by in-house counsel to encourage law firms to implement fair and equitable compensation, credit origination, and client succession policies.

Young Lawyers/Social Media 
Another working group is focusing on engaging young female and male lawyers in gender equity issues. Young lawyers may not realize that bias and discrimination exist because they have not encountered it. Moreover, bias today is often more subtle and implicit, rather than overt. This working group has created the Task Force website and spearheads an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as hosting a Twitter chat on Equal Pay Day (April 9th). It is leading the charge for a “virtual” march in Washington in support of equal pay. Learn about these great events from our social media sites and be a part of the conversation.

ABA Women’s Affinity Groups
Representatives of ABA women’s affinity groups met during the ABA Midyear Meeting to discuss how to enhance the collaboration and coordination of projects and other initiatives of women’s groups in the ABA so they can work collectively on issues of common interest. A listserve has been established, as well as a newsletter, so these representatives can continue to connect with one another.

Women General Counsel Regional Summit
On March 7, 2013, the Commission on Women and the Gender Equity Task Force hosted a successful Midwest Regional Summit for women in-house general counsel and senior counsel to discuss issues that are of importance to them in their careers, as well as creative ways to help ensure that the women at law firms handling their companies’ work are advancing in their firms and receiving fair compensation.

International Women-to-Women Business Network
This working group has planned and hosted two networking events so far, one in connection with the UIA in Germany and the other at the Law Society of England and Wales in London, England. Three more events are planned before the end of the 2012–13 bar year. The purpose of the events is to bring women lawyers from around the world together to meet each other and refer business to one another. A listserve has been established to allow these women to continue to connect with each other after the events. The Section of International Law has been instrumental in helping to arrange these events. Future programs will be held in conjunction with the International Law Section’s Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., as well as the DAV-International Law Section meeting in Frankfurt, Germany. The final event will be held on August 9th during the ABA Annual Meeting from 6:00–7:00 p.m. at the Hotel Nikko.

Communications Group
This working group has been charged with identifying opportunities for President Bellows to comment in the media on important gender equity issues. This group is also instrumental in developing the media relations campaign for the Task Force.

We are grateful that Laurel Bellows has used her ABA Presidency to shine a much-needed spotlight on the barriers that have impeded the progress of women in the profession and in society at large. Join us in this important endeavor––it is only by leveraging our collective power that we will finally achieve the real and meaningful change that is long overdue!

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, Gender Equity Task Force

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