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January 23, 2018 Practice Points

International Study Shows In-House Bias Toward Male Outside Counsel

By Joelle A. Simms

Over the last three years, London-based research firm Acritas has collected more than 10,000 nominations of “stand-out” attorneys made by senior in-house lawyers worldwide. As part of the study, the firm also asked the in-house counsel to describe why they chose to nominate the attorneys as “Stars.”

In an article published by the firm on January 17, 2018, Acritas noted that the most recent nominations demonstrated a “gender bias” in that “male clients were half as likely to nominate a female Star lawyer.” Specifically, “only 15% of male-nominated Stars were women,” as compared with “29% of female-nominated Stars being women—almost twice the level.” According to the CEO of Acritas, Lisa Hart Shepherd, “the effect of this bias is multiplied when you consider four out of five senior in-house counsel are male.”

Interestingly, although vastly outnumbered in nominations, the performance of female partners was rated the same as male partners by clients on every performance attribute. “Expertise” was the number one quality identified by clients for both genders, but women attorneys had more qualities listed in their nominations and “were significantly more recognized for being responsive, approachable, professional, and diligent.”

Regardless of who nominated them, however, since 2015, only 12.5 percent of all 8,000 nominees have been women. Reflecting on the firm’s research, Shepherd commented that it was “easy to see why female partners find it hard to get equity partnerships in law firms.” In her opinion, “the gender gap at equity partner level will only see material change if clients use their buyer muscle to give female lawyers in private practice more power. Money still talks in law firms and those who bring in the business are the ones who rise to the top.”

Joelle A. Simms is an associate with Bressler, Amery & Ross, PC in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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