Male attorneys continue dominance at law firms

By Bennett Loudon
BridgeTower Media Newswires

ROCHESTER, NY — U.S. law firms continue to be dominated by men, especially at the partnership level, according to Law360’s new Glass Ceiling Report.

Efforts to increase the number of women in the law have been meager at best, according to the survey of more than 300 law firms.

While women have accounted for more than 40 percent of law school students for more than three decades, they make up only 34.8 percent of all attorneys at the law firms surveyed. The rate was 34 percent the year before.

“Sadly, the most recent report suggests that strides toward breaking the gender disparity glass ceiling amongst U.S. law firms over the last year has been futile,” said Jodie Ryan, president of the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys.

“However, I am optimistic that firms will read the report and recognize that more needs to be done in order to level the playing field,” said Ryan, who is of counsel in the Rochester office of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP.

According to the report, the percentage of women at the associate and partner levels grew less than 1 percent over the past year. The survey shows that 44.3 percent of non-partners at law firms were women, as of Dec. 31, 2016, up from 43.8 percent the year before.

The amount of women at the top ranks of law firms, such as equity partners, continues to hover at about 20 percent, up slightly from 19.2 the year before.

Only nine of the surveyed firms have an attorney workforce that is at least 50 percent female. Sixty of the firms were at least 40 percent female.

The few firms that are making progress have had policies in place that support women’s careers. These efforts include recruiting from a more diverse applicant pool, encouraging flexible work schedules, and implementing leadership and professional development programs, according to the report.

Women may be largely absent from the partner level at the surveyed firms because corporations and government agencies, which often offer more flexibility, lure many of those female attorneys away from law firms.

Law360 editor-in-chief Anne Urda said the survey has been conducted for four years but the results have remained stagnant “despite the fact that firms are forming these women’s committees and trying to create more opportunities to promote females.”

“I think that just shows how entrenched law firms can be and how difficult it is to move the needle,” Urda said.

The lack of progress is not going unnoticed by clients. Corporate clients are starting to require diversity in the firms they hire.

The American Bar Association has created a model survey that can be used to collect information about staff diversity from law firms. Last fall, general counsel from more than 20 major companies sent a letter to fellow Fortune 1000 attorneys asking that they use the ABA survey to gather data and use it as a factor in hiring decisions.

“With better mentorship programs, flexible family-friendly schedules, equal access to work-related opportunities, and the removal of politics from the equation, firms can most certainly add a few more cracks to the glass,” Ryan said.