Susan Smith Blakely

Best Law Firms for Women Lawyers——How Reliable Are the Lists?

I know that I have published list after list of the "Best Firms for Women Lawyers" over the years in my blogs and on my website.  It seems like the right thing to do for someone who has been devoted to the retention and advancement of women lawyers for more than a decade. 

But, honestly, I did it with some reluctance.  I always was a little skeptical about how those lists were compiled, whether the research was based on an even playing field for all contenders, and the nature of the relationships between the ranking entities and the firms ranked highest on their lists.

Now a new batch of those lists (from Law 360Working Mother, and more) has been released, and it turns out that I am not the only one with these kinds of questions and concerns.   One of the most savvy law reporters around has doubts similar to my own and has looked critically at the lists and the law firms that appear there.

In her article, "'Best' Law Firms for Women?  Really?," Vivia Chen of The Careerist and ALM calls the lists "confusing, if not misleading.  And sad."

Here are some of her concerns for you to keep in mind as you read and rely on those lists:

Having a high percentage of women lawyers in a law firm is different than having a high percentage of women equity partners or shareholders;
Effort is not the same as results, and firms that have flexible work arrangements, generous parental leave policies and business development training (while all laudable efforts) should not be given equal weight with firms that "walk the walk" and have impressive percentages of women as partners, demonstrating real equality for women within their ranks; and
Sugar coating and "misrepresenting" the data will not get us where we want to go in terms of true equity for women lawyers.

We all are trained as fact finders for three long years in law school and in our practices, and we must look behind representations to discover the facts and who really deserves credit and who does not.  We need to expect that of ourselves.

For more on the "lists" and progress in gender diversity at law firms, see "Who's The Best? (Leading Law Firms for Women)" in the current issue of the  ABA Journal.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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