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Report: Firms making only ‘incremental’ gender parity gains

July 25, 2017

Men continue to constitute nearly two-thirds of attorneys at law firms across the United States despite recent efforts toward increasing gender parity, a new study on the representation of women in the legal workplace says.

In its 2017 Glass Ceiling Report, Law360 reported that among a survey of more than 300 firms nationwide, only 2.6 percent, or nine firms, reported having an attorney workforce that is at least 50 percent female. In total, men made up more than 65 percent of all attorneys at all firms surveyed, while women constituted just 34.8 percent.

Though the results of the survey indicate a continued disparity between male and female law firm representation, the Law360 report says firms have made “incremental” progress toward increasing the number of women in their ranks over the last four years. For example, only 43.4 percent of nonpartners at law firms were women in 2013, but that number rose slightly to 44.3 percent by 2016. Additionally, the percentage of female equity partners currently is 19.9 percent, while women represented only 16.9 percent of equity partners in 2013, the survey says.

However, the Law360 report goes on to say such progress represents “only the smallest steps toward increasing the number of women” attorneys in law firms.

“It just hasn’t risen substantially in decades,” Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law told Law360. “What we should be looking for is progress, and that’s not what we’re seeing.”

Among the firms that reported having an attorney workforce that was at least 40 percent female — 60 firms total — most reported having policies in place that support women’s careers, the Law360 report says. Such policies include intentionally recruiting from a diverse applicant pool and encouraging flexible work schedules that accommodate women’s professional and family obligations.

Clients are also demanding an increase in gender equity, the report says, with some clients even asking for firms to provide documentable evidence of diversity efforts from the law firms they hire.

Other key takeaways from the Law360 report include:

·         23.1 percent of all partners at firms surveyed were women in 2016;

·         17 percent of firms reported having an attorney workforce that is at least 40 percent female; and

·         Women account for more than 30 percent of nonequity partners, but less than 20 percent of equity partners.

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