Women in Big Law Are Losing Ground

The latest report from National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) is out. Women’s progress in the nation’s biggest law firms is painfully slow. Women in Big Law aren’t treading water, they’re sinking.

Here are the some of  the key findings from the NAWL report, which surveys Am Law 100 and 200 firms:

– Women equity partnership ranks have barely risen in 10 years. Women now represent 18 percent of all equity partners. The good news is that women in corporations and academia have done much better, comprising about 23 percent of Fortune 500 general counsel and 37.5 percent of tenured positions at law schools.

– Men far outnumber women among lateral equity partners. The typical firm promoted one female and one male to equity partner from those who started out at the firm. But for lateral partners, there were five males to one female.

– The gender gap in pay for equity partners has widen. The typical female equity partner now earns 80 percent of what a male equity partner earns; in 2006, female equity partners earned 84 percent of what men did.

– Women logged more hours but got paid less. The total hours worked (billable and not) for women equity partners exceeded those of men equity partners. Women had fewer client-billable hours but more pro bono hours.

– Men outpaced women in rainmaking credit. The gender gap in client origination credit worsened since a year ago, when NALP first tracked this issue. Among firms that provided data about the gender of the top 10 highest revenue generators, 88 percent were men, while 12 percent were women. (In last survey, women were 14 percent.)

Are there any bright spots in this report? NAWL board member Sharon Jones, who also chaired the survey, says yes. She says that although women are still underrepresented in important committees, their presence can make a big difference. She notes that law firms with three or more women on compensation committees have smaller gender pay gaps. Female equity partners earned 87 percent of men’s take in such cases, compared to 77 percent when there are two or fewer women on the committee.

“It doesn’t prove causation, but it does show correlation,” says Jones.

In fact, the situation is worse than what the NAWL report indicates. For one thing, it’s striking that so many firms now decline to participate in NAWL’s survey. What’s more, none would answer all the questions that NAWL posed.