April 25, 2014 Practice Points

Women Lawyers in Corporate America

By Cassie Hanson

Elizabeth Olson’s article in the New York Times outlines the continued gradual progress of women lawyers in corporate America. In 1979, CCH Inc., an information service provider, promoted Mary Ann Hynes to the top legal job, marking the first time in history that a woman held the role of corporate counsel. Within two decades, Fortune 500 companies had 44 female general counsel; this year, the number of female general counsel grew to 106.

2013 did, however, mark the first dip in female corporate counsel ranks, with three fewer women holding top legal posts than in 2012. While women continue to move into top legal positions, Olson notes that women in the legal field should still proceed with caution. Outside of the top 500 companies, women hold only 17 percent of the top legal jobs at companies ranked 501–1000. To further add insult to injury, outside of corporate America, the number of female partners at American law firms has remained static for the past five years at 19 percent.  

Women have broken some of the toughest glass ceilings, however. Four of the country’s 17 largest corporations have women in the top legal position: Wal-Mart Stores, Honeywell International, FedEx, and Lockheed Martin. In addition, five women are now leading the law departments of aerospace and defense companies, traditionally an all-male field.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, corporate America

Cassie Hanson works at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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