Partner promotions at law firms come every year, and they traditionally haven’t gotten much attention in the press. But last year, that started to change.
After coverage was picked up in Above the Law and Big Law Business, law firms started pitching partner promotion press releases with details touting their diversity profiles.
In one email in late November, a Pillsbury public relations specialist pointed our eyes to the fact that six of the firm’s eight new partners are women, later adding that half of its six new office managing partner appointments are women.
“Empowering female lawyers is obviously something we’re making a priority as we move into 2017,” said Matt Hyams in a Dec. 1 email.
The email wasn’t unique. Earlier in November, a McDermott Will & Emery spokesman alerted us to its 34 new partners, saying 47 percent are women, “the highest percentage of female appointments at McDermott in recent history.”
The McDermott spokesman Brian Gallagher noted 47 percent is greater than the national average of 37.1 percent among 2016 AmLaw 100 law firms, reported by Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, and even provided a history of steady improvement: In 2015, 27 percent of the firm’s new partners were women, in 2016, 33 percent, and in 2017, even more, 47 percent.
All of the hullabaloo made us want to take a comprehensive look at who law firms have been promoting to partners. So I set out and surveyed all of the Big Law partner promotions in 2016 to see what would turn up.
Unfortunately, after looking at 100 firm announcements, I found the messages sent to Big Law Business didn’t hold up with the national average. In 2016, 36.7 percent of all partner promotions in the AmLaw 100 went to women, according to my analysis.
To put that into some context, that figure is slightly below the percentage of women promoted to partner in the 2016 Diversity and Flexibility Alliance survey, which looked at promotions between Oct. 1 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016. That survey, as McDermott pointed out, found 37.1 percent of attorneys promoted in the AmLaw 100 were women.
Before going into some more detail of our own findings, here’s little bit about the methodology:
I looked at partner promotions announced at all AmLaw 100 firms between January 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016. Two exceptions to the methodology were Williams & Connolly and Haynes & Boone, which did not announce partner promotions in 2016. Their 2017 promotions, announced on Jan. 1, 2017 and Jan. 3, 2017, respectively, were included instead. Kaye Scholer, which merged with Arnold & Porter at the end of 2016, was not included in the list.
Of the most significant findings, 21 of AmLaw 100 firms announced a partner promotion class with 50 percent or more women, and three firms — Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Schulte Roth and Pepper Hamilton — had all-female classes. But the women from those all-female classes make up only eight of the 1,557 total AmLaw 100 partners promoted in 2016, making those firms outliers.
Excluding these three firms, the other 18 firms with 50 percent or more women included in their partner promotions are as follows: Paul Hastings, Ogletree Deakins, Pillsbury, Williams & Connolly, Blank Rome, Wachtell, Faegre Baker, Lewis Brisbois, Nixon Peabody, K&L Gates, Haynes and Boone, Orrick, Dorsey, Locke Lord, Mintz Levin, O’Melveny, Perkins Coie and Steptoe.
Five firms — Sullivan & Cromwell, Paul Weiss, Shearman & Sterling, Cahill, and Hughes Hubbard — announced all-male partner classes in 2016. The 19 attorneys promoted at those firms also represent a tiny fraction (1.2 percent) of overall promotions.
Excluding these five firms, 73 other law firms posted partner promotions with more than 50 percent men. Six firms had partner promotion classes with an equal number of men and women.
A full list of firm data can be found here .
Although the findings don’t take into account ethnicity or racial backgrounds, we hope the findings spark healthy dialogue in the legal community and offer law students and lawyers some insight into the law firms that are taking action to push toward gender parity.
If you have any comments, or a news item, feel free to write to us at BigLawBusiness@bna.com .