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

In a previous post, I talked about some of the results recently reported by NAWL for their annual national survey. For the first time, NAWL asked firms questions about the retention policies and efforts to retain women lawyers. The survey focused on three structural issues: large minimum hour requirements, poor part-time policies, and the existence (or not) of a women’s initiative within the firm.

Minimum Hour Requirements: The survey focused on this issue because of the idea that high billable hour requirements “have a disproportionate impact on women attorneys because of the tensions between the time required for work and family responsibilities.” I think to be more correctly stated long billable hour requirements have a disproportionate impact on retention of women lawyers because women are less likely to stand for inhumane working conditions than men are, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is straighter priorities. In any case, the report finds “that women working under various hours requirements have no greater or lesser chance of progressing into senior positions.” Additionally women make equity partner in the same percentages at firms with high minimum billables as they do at firms with low minimum billables. The only difference is found in compensation levels where higher hour requirements equal higher wages which really makes sense. An unexplained survey result is that there is an even larger disparity between male and female partner compensation at firms that require a high number of billables.

Part Time Schedules: It's no surprise that “women are about six times more likely then men to work part-time.” What is interesting, but not satisfactorily explained by the report, is the finding that women tend to work part-time earlier in their careers and men usually as they approach retirement.

Women’s Initiatives: 95% of the surveyed firms have some sort of program targeted specifically to women: mentoring, networking, professional development, etc. Only 59% of those had a formal mentoring program for women. A mentoring program seems like the easiest program to institute from a business prospective so it is surprising to me that there isn’t one of these everywhere. Perhaps there is not enough buy-in from the would-be-mentors to make such a program feasible.

All in all, I think this survey is a great resource. This will be especially true as more years go by (this is the second annual survey) and we are able to compare the data over time. Mostly I would love to know what happens between a woman’s 7th year as an associate and her making partner. (See Post I.) Is it really that the partnership offers never materialize and woman are forced to leave the firm? Is it the consequence of women not working on the right client teams or getting the key roles in big litigation? Or, is it something about being approximately 32 years old and hearing the biological clock tick? Or, is this the point where women finally decide to leave the rat race, go work for the government, open their own firm, or go in house instead of vying for the illusive “partner” title? Is it a lack of competitive nature in women that makes them not even compete for partner? Is it representative of a large number of associates that never plan to make partner or want to make partner and instead, milk the cash cow (i.e. the firm) for as long as they can before being faced with an “up or out” proposition? Tell me, what do you think it is?

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