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Yale Law Women Announces 2011 Top Ten Family Friendly Firms

Yale Law Women (YLW) has announced its sixth annual Top Ten Family Friendly Firms List. 

The 2011 Top Ten Firms, in alphabetical order, are:

Arnold & Porter
Covington & Burling
Dorsey & Whitney
Kirkland & Ellis
Mayer Brown
Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo
Perkins Coie
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Sidley Austin
WilmerHale 

YLW also shared the following reflections on this year's results:

As the legal field heads toward recovery after the recent financial crisis, YLW believes that the focus on family friendly firm policies and policies designed for the retention of women remains more important and pressing than ever. As the prototypical law firm model adapts to accommodate new market demands, YLW hopes that leading firms will take the opportunity to set the example for implementing more flexible work arrangements and career paths for their attorneys. While in practice, firms with family friendly cultures are likely to be particularly successful in retaining and promoting the top women attorneys, we believe that family friendliness is important to both men and women’s abilities to maintain successful careers and fulfilling family lives. 

In its sixth annual survey of the Vault Top 100 Firms, YLW found that many firms have already embraced more flexible career paths and found new and creative ways to support employees who have families. Thirty-six percent of firms who responded to our survey offer formal “off-ramp/on-ramp programs,” which allow attorneys to re-enter their firms after taking a number of years to spend with their families and or to explore other legal pursuits.  This represents a substantial increase from last year’s survey.

In addition, many firms provide child care facilities, care services for the elderly, and lactation rooms for nursing mothers. Still others allow employees to apply for up to $5000 in reimbursement of the costs associated with adopting a child. To further facilitate a family-friendly environment, firms have organized formal and informal support networks for attorneys who are trying to balance family responsibilities with their careers, particularly those with children.

Flexible and part-time work options are also becoming the norm: 100% of responding firms offer a part-time option, and 98% offer a flex-time option, in which attorneys bill full-time hours while regularly working outside the office. More than 99% of part-time requests were granted on average at responding firms. On average, 7% of attorneys at these firms were working part-time in 2010.

Despite these gains and innovative policies, YLW remains concerned about the low rates of retention for women, the dearth of women in leadership positions, the gender gap in those who take advantage of family friendly policies, and the possibility that part-time work can derail an otherwise successful career. 

Although YLW found that, on average, 45% of associates at responding law firms are women, women make up only 17% of equity partners and 18% of firm executive management committees. Additionally, on average, women made up just 27% of newly promoted partners in 2010.  We hope that firms will continue to pursue policies which enable them to retain women and which promote women’s ability to join the leadership of their firms.

YLW considered the availability and use of parental leave policies as one measure of the gender gap in firm expectations. While 70% of responding firms offer more than 16 weeks leave to primary caregivers, women are allowed more than twice as much parental leave as men on average: birth mothers receive 17 weeks of parental leave compared to 7 weeks, on average, for men.  While 94% of mothers used the maximum parental leave offered, 85% of fathers did the same.  The disparity in parental leave policies and the possibility of stigma against men who fully utilize the available leave may present substantial obstacles to male attorneys who wish to be more involved with their children. 

Despite the greater availability of flexible work arrangements, part-time work may still limit one’s career. Perhaps unsurprisingly, women make up the vast majority (81%) of the 7% of attorneys working part-time.  While nearly 100% of the requests for part-time work at responding firms were granted, part-time work is rarely used by attorneys in leadership positions. Of the 7% of attorneys working part-time, only 11% were partners, a number that may also include partners approaching retirement. Only 5% of the partners promoted in 2010 had worked part-time in the past, on average, and only 4% were working part-time when they were promoted. 

Moreover, it remains to be seen whether it is truly possible to work part-time at all. Our statistics indicate that while part-time attorneys appear to be fairly compensated, many may work more hours than originally planned. Most firms (93%) provide additional compensation if part-time attorneys work more than the planned number of hours or make part-time attorneys eligible for bonuses (96%). However, part-time attorneys received bonuses at higher rates than full-time attorneys (25% compared to 23% on average), suggesting that many part-time schedules may ultimately morph into full-time hours over the course of a year.

YLW is encouraged that many firms are moving in the right direction and hopes that this survey highlights the importance of family friendly policies as well as the areas in need of improvement.  Much more still needs to be done to reduce gender disparity in firm leadership and to ensure that all attorneys can achieve successful careers without sacrificing their commitment to their families.

Please visit the YLW website, for more information and survey methodology. 

2 Comments

KHernan881

Thanks to YLW for their year-after-year effort in this arena.
However, I have a critical question that I can’t find an answer to here or on the YLW site—How many firms responded to the survey?  I think that this information is critical to understanding how useful these numbers are?

jessie

The commenter is exactly right - the YLW website explains the survey committee sent their questions to the Vault 100, but doesn’t say how many responded.

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