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For Women Lawyers: Good News, Bad News

Blogger Chuck Newton points us to the newly published study from the National Association of Women Lawyers, NAWL's First National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. The news is not good. The survey finds law firms have plenty of women at their lowest level but a paucity at the top. From the survey:

"[W]omen lawyers are well-represented at the lowest level of the profession, constituting 45% of associates, but not at the top of the profession. While women account for close to half of law firm associates, they account for 28% of of-counsel lawyers and 26% of non-equity partners. At the top level of law firm partnership, women account overall for 16% or 1 out of every 6 equity partners. Representation in the equity partnership during prime earning years (between 10 and 25 years experience in the profession) is a little better; in that group, women account for about 20% or 1 out of every 5 equity partners. Among the most junior equity partners, women account for about 24% or 1 in 4."

It gets worse. Even women who achieve the status of equity partner tend to earn less than their male counterparts and play a lesser role in firm governance. On average, women hold only 16 percent of the seats on their firms' governing committees and make up only 5 percent of managing partners.

But the good news for women lawyers, as Carolyn Elefant writes at,  is that they are finding it easier than ever before to build successful careers in solo and small-firm practice.

"As the barriers to starting a law firm decrease, more and more women are successfully starting firms ... and don't need to settle for the sham part time programs that some firms initially put in place."

In fact, Elefant argues, these solo women are helping to improve working conditions for their peers at larger firms. Pointing to a Boston Globe article on greater part-time opportunities for women at larger firms, she says it is because solo and small-firm practice has become a viable option for women that larger firms are forced to better accommodate their need for flexible and part-time schedules. Call it, if you will, the "trickle-up" effect: broader options for women in smaller firms force larger firms to follow suit.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 6, 2006 at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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