Recent national data suggests there is a critical problem facing women in the legal profession that requires immediate action from female attorneys and the bar as a whole. This problem, if left unaddressed, will be detrimental to young women seeking legal careers, as well as to the legal community as a whole.
What has caused such urgency within the female legal community? It’s the loss from law firms of female attorneys between the senior associate and senior partner levels.
The Numbers Behind the Issue
A survey conducted by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, A Current Glance at Women in the Law 2013, (January 2013), revealed that female attorneys make up only 19.9 percent of the partners and only 15 percent of equity partners in law firms. In the 200 largest law firms surveyed, only 4 percent of the managing partners were women.
Since the mid-80s, women have comprised more than 40 percent of law school graduates. After 30 years, it would seem, therefore, that women should make up a roughly comparable percentage of equity partners assuming men and women are promoted at the same rate. Yet, in the typical law firm less than 20 percent of equity partners are women.
This trend is disturbing on many fronts, not only for women in the legal profession but for the bar as a whole. Why do so many female attorneys leave between the senior associate and senior partner levels?
Part of the explanation for the exodus of experienced female attorneys may be compensation. Available data indicates that in 2011 the average weekly salary for a female attorney was 86.6 percent of her male counterpart’s salary. However, a vast majority of firms refuse to report gender specific compensation data, so the gender pay gap actually may be even greater.
For law firms, the inability to retain experienced female attorneys is a costly issue. When an experienced female attorney leaves a firm, a knowledge and experience gap may be created in the firm, as well as the potential loss of clients who were served by the female attorney. Not only does this mean lost revenue for the firm, but also that the firm is not as strong as it might have been had the experienced female attorney remained.
What Can Be Done?
The advancement of women in law firms must become a universal goal for everyone in the legal community, and the gender pay gap must be closed. Additionally, firms should do what they can to promote a healthy culture of work-life balance – as younger attorneys across the profession have expressed the desire for more time for family and community than their predecessors. Experienced attorneys must mentor and/or sponsor these younger attorneys – especially female attorneys – to help them develop their legal careers in ways that will keep them active members of the legal community.