The old adage "Where there is a will, there is a way" seems to apply to promoting women in the law — if you ignore equity status.
Hastings College of the Law's Project for Attorney Retention — known as PAR — released a survey of new partner classes at more than 100 U.S. law firms this week. Some of the findings were heartening. Twenty-three firms had new partner classes in 2010 that were 50 percent or more female. Overall, 34 percent of new partners at the surveyed firms were women, compared to 28 percent of new partners in 2009.
But two factors throw cold water on early celebrations, says Cynthia Calvert, the Washington, D.C.-based director of research at PAR.
One: the overall number of women partners in law firms (about 19 percent, based on NALP figures) remains low.
Two: the survey made no distinction between equity and non-equity partners. The reason that info wasn’t taken into account is simple. Law firms don’t make it available. Calvert says it’s hard to say how including equity ranks might affect results.
“My guess is that we would see fewer women in the equity ranks,” she said, citing a couple of studies, including one by the National Association of Women Lawyers, which said in a November report that less than 16 percent of equity partners at the country’s 200 largest firms were female (.pdf).
In its own study, PAR says some of the best performers have been its own members — firms which have made a commitment to work/life balance and to the retention and advancement of women lawyers a priority.
Plenty of firms PAR surveyed didn’t show much progress. Fourteen law firms had all–male classes. And some of the worst performers this year have done better in the past. Here’s a partial list of PAR’s winners and not-winners:
Sullivan and Cromwell (100% female); Munger Tolles (100%); Weil, Gotschal (100%); Mayer Brown (75%); Seyfarth Shaw (75%); Bingham McCutcheon (71%); Proskauer Rose (67%); WilmerHale (63%); Beveridge & Diamond (60%); Winston & Strawn (60%).
None of these firms made a female partner this year: Boies Schiller; Cleary Gottlieb; Crowell & Moring; Kilpatrick Stockton; Lowenstein Sandler; Luce Forward; Milbank; Pepper Hamilton; Quinn Emanuel; Shearman & Sterling.
For the entire list and some caveats, check out the entire report (.pdf).