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Is It A Fit? Finding A Firm That Works For You As A Working Mother

You’ve made it out of law school. You’ve passed the bar. Now, you’re ready to practice – but where? The fact is, as a woman in the legal profession, finding a position where you’ll have opportunities for growth can be a real challenge.

The fact is that as a woman, you can get in the door, but, as a study by the American Bar Association demonstrated, women make up 45% of associates in private practice, but only 18% of equity partners. Something is keeping women from successfully climbing the career ladder. Luckily, finding a practice that’s a good fit for your personal and professional goals can help keep you on track.

Making Sense of Fit

If you ask employers what they look for in a prospective employee, you’ll hear the word “fit” a lot, shorthand for people whose individual goals match the business’s mission. It’s also a statement about professional culture  - those who share a common ethos and attitude. Across professions, the latter is of particular importance; in one survey, 43% of managers consider cultural fit the most important factor when making hiring decisions.

At any given law firm, cultural fit often translates to how many billable hours people put in, how often they vacation, and what types of cases they take on. But for women, family life can also play a role in cultural fit. For example, at top firms, only 32% of men take caregiver leave, even though it’s equitably available. As a woman, if you take more caregiver leave, whether standard maternity leave or just a day off to take care of a sick kid, it can put you at a real disadvantage compared to male colleagues. And senior men at the practice will interpret it as a problem of fit.

Family-Friendly Law

Despite ongoing bias against women in law, many firms are taking progressive steps towards gender equality in the office – and young women in the profession should take those efforts into account when looking for a position. There are even guides, such as Best Law Firms for Women initiative, a project of Working Mother Media, that can help you make an informed decision.

So what makes a firm a good fit for women, and particularly for mothers? The Best Law Firms initiative looks at a number of factors, including the number of women partners, remote work opportunities, and multiple paths to partnership. In particular, working mothers tend to thrive at firms where flextime and remote work aren’t just options, but where everyone takes advantage of them. If men in the office aren’t using these flexible work arrangements, though, then they aren’t real options – or at least not a good fit.

Women are making strides in the legal professions, but it remains an uphill battle. What we do know, though, is that gender equality initiatives make a big difference; at firms with an established gender equality initiative, for example, female equity partners make 94% of what male equity partners earn, compared to 82% at firms at the beginning of the process. That’s far better than the national average within other professions, and a small but important sign that law firms are beginning to live out the legal equality they fight for in court. And in the long term, that’s the strongest indicator that law can be a good fit for women.

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