November 03, 2014 Practice Points

Gender Disparity Persists Despite More Women Lawyers in the Pipeline

By Suzanne L. Jones

The Law Firm Advancement Committee of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts recently asked “Where have all the women lawyers gone?” [login required] in an op-ed published by the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. As set forth in the article, women in law firms make up only 47 percent of associates, 38 percent of counsels, 29 percent of non-equity partners, and 17 percent of equity partners. Despite the once prevailing belief that there just needed to be enough women in the pipeline to make it to the top, it is now clear that there is something more to the issue than numbers.

The committee analyzed data from the top 25 law firms culled from an April survey byLawyers Weekly of the 100 largest law firms. The committee found that this year, 65 percent of attorneys are men while only 35 percent are women. With respect to equity partners, approximately 80 percent are men and 20 percent are women. With respect to non-equity partners, the gap narrows, but remains with 57 percent men and 43 percent women.

According to the committee, addressing the gender disparity should be a priority for firms because clients demand diversity in their legal teams and because it “costs several hundred thousand dollars to replace an associate, not to mention the loss of institutional knowledge.” Diversity within firm management also is beneficial because it “decreases groupthink, deters corruption, increases shareholder value, and improves decision making.”

What, then, should firms do to address this issue? The committee has asked Lawyers Weekly to publish additional gender data that would require firms “to report gender disparities across multiple firm metrics: full-time/part-time status, associates, counsel, staff attorneys, non-equity partners, equity partners, governing and compensation committees, and top 10 rainmakers with comparison to the prior year.” According to the article, “a law firm’s willingness to share data on the advancement of women lawyers is, in and of itself, an indicator of the firm’s effectiveness in advancing female attorneys.” The committee also recommends that law firms train their employees to recognize and eliminate bias.


Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, criticism, women, performance reviews

Suzanne L. Jones works at Hinshaw & Culbertson, LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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