Summit focuses on women's long-term legal careers

Distinguished women lawyers from around the country will gather at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in Chicago on June 28 to discuss a problem that has affected the legal profession for decades — experienced women leaving the legal profession in substantial numbers.

The agenda builds on a previous summit held at Harvard Law School in November, which examined the unique issues and career dynamics facing women lawyers in practice for over 20 years and the reasons for their disproportionately high rate of attrition.

Statistics show that for more than 25 years, close to half of law school graduates have been women and that they enter the profession at the same rate as men. However, gender differences quickly emerge. 

Only 41 percent of firm lawyers age 40 or older are women, and their numbers continue to shrink. 

Among lawyers who are 50 or older, just 27 percent are women. In addition, few of these women move into law firm leadership. 

While women constitute 45 percent of associates in the entering classes of U.S. big law firms, they make up only about 25 percent of partners and a mere 19 percent of equity partners.

The summit will report on preliminary findings of surveys, focus groups and research conducted since the previous summit.  

“Based on the ABA’s groundbreaking focus on this troubling trend, a clearer picture has emerged to explain why so many women lawyers are leaving the profession in what should be the prime of their career,” said ABA President Hilarie Bass, who has made this issue one of the signature initiatives of her presidential term. “Issues surrounding business-generation credit, women being treated as tokens for diversity purposes, success fatigue as well as sexual harassment are all factors.

“This is a huge loss of talent and expertise to the legal profession and to our justice system that we cannot afford. This summit will be a big step toward changing the current trend.”

The summit will begin with Bass giving welcoming remarks. Kimberly A. Yuracko, Judd and Mary Morris Professor of Law and incoming dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, will also speak. 

They will be followed by the initiative’s co-chairs: Roberta D. Liebenberg, senior partner, Fine Kaplan & Black, RPC in Philadelphia and past chair of the ABA Commission on Women; and Stephanie A. Scharf, partner, Scharf Banks Marmor LLC in Chicago and chair of the ABA Commission on Women.Plenary sessions:

• “Plenary 1: What Have We Learned? What Can We Do?” — This session will offer the first report on research about long-term careers for women lawyers and recommended best practices. 

The results address women’s reports that they have been denied access to business development opportunities because of their gender, among other issues. 

The panelists include Paulette Brown, past ABA president and a partner at Locke Lord LLP; Roberta Liebenberg; Stephanie Scharf; and Joyce Sterling, senior researcher, ABA Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law; professor of legal ethics and legal profession, University of Denver Sturm College of Law. 

• “Plenary 2: Men in the Mix” — This session will focus on the value and roles of men for fostering long-term careers for women lawyers. 

Alan Bryan, senior associate general counsel, Walmart, Inc., will moderate a panel including Alex Dimitrief, senior vice president of GE, president and CEO of GE Global Growth Organization; Gregory B. Jordan, general counsel and chief administrative officer, PNC; and Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of World Business Chicago.

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