NAWL’s National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, Part I

NAWL released the results of their survey two weeks ago, albeit to less fanfare that other less-involved reports. While those of us who are familiar with the topic may find that much of what the survey reports is old news, there were some things reported that were surprising to me.

First, I was surprised to learn that the drop off in the number of women attorneys at firms happens between the senior associate level and the partner level. I was previously aware that women comprise somewhere between 45-50% of junior associates (actually 49% according to this survey) and somewhere around 17% of equity partners (actually 16%). I assumed that the lower representation of women was gradual with the percentages getting less and less with each year of associate-ship. However, the survey shows something much more striking. NAWL found that women make up 43% of 7th year associates, 30% of of-counsels, 26% of non-equity partners, and 16% of equity partners. Here’s what the report says about these numbers...

We observe generally that the difference between the substantial number of women at associate levels and the marked reduction in women in the equity ranks may have serious implications for whether and how firms can achieve gender balance. At the bottom end, newly minted lawyers – male and female alike – see few women reaching the top of the profession within their organization. There are few successful women role models, fewer opportunities for men and women alike to work with senior women lawyers; and fewer women to mentor more junior lawyers, male or female. The danger is also that these numbers create a self-reinforcing culture of negative expectations, that women will not proceed in large numbers into senior positions.

The second thing that I learned is that there is a significant income disparity that exists at levels higher than associates:

While 2007 compensation for associates is roughly parallel between men and women lawyers, male of counsels earn roughly $20,000 more than females, male non-equity partners earn roughly $27,000 more than females, and male equity partners earn almost $90,000 more than female equity partners.

Combine the compensation differences with the low numbers of women at the of-counsel and partnership levels and the two things raise some serious questions about the opportunities for women at law firms. The NAWL report speculates that these may indicate problems with the types of assignments and clients given to women and problems with the other sorts of opportunities given to women to grow their own practices within the firm.

See related story from the ABA Journal here.

In Part II, I will discuss some of the reports findings on law firm policies aimed at retaining women.



The WSJ's Law Blog decided to dabble in this issue yesterday, as did, apparently, the National Law Journal.  The Law Blog quotes a consultant (boy, how I love so-called experts) who said the following:"A major reason that women lag so far behind in top leadership roles at law firms is because, in general, those are not jobs they want, said Joel Henning, a consultant with Hildebrandt International. “The best women lawyers get satisfaction out of their practices, and they see little attraction in becoming housekeeping-type law firm leaders,” Henning said. “Many women would rather do their housekeeping chores somewhere else, not in their law firms.” Come on.  Really?  Who is buying this?  Is this guy really saying that women are not as ambitious as men?  Did he really make that comment about women's housekeeping chores?  This guy, Joel Henning, is the definition of sexism and should not be allowed to consult anyone about anything.  Remind me when I am the managing partner at my firm (someday) to never, never call on Hildebrandt International to consult me on anything.

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