Women Make Slight Gains In Big Law Equity Partnership: Report

Women have made modest gains in the highest ranks of Big Law firms, but they remain underrepresented and out-earned by their male counterparts, according to the results of a new survey.

According to the survey conducted by the National Association of Women Lawyers, women make up 19 percent of equity partners, compared to 16 percent ten years ago. The survey found that women are far more likely to be in lower-rank positions: they make up 30 percent of non-equity partners and 42 percent of non-partner track attorneys.

Women of color, including Black, Asian and Latina women, represent two percent of equity partners and three percent of non-equity partners.

Among equity partners, women work just as many hours as men, but their client billings are 92 percent of those of men, the survey found.

However, there is some indication that positive change is on the way, according to NAWL president Angela Beranek Brandt, a litigation partner at Larson King. In 2015 and 2016, responding firms promoted an average of 15 individuals to equity partner, 33 percent of which were women.  

“If this trend continues, we will see movement in the overall percentage of female equity partners,” Brandt told Big Law Business via e-mail. “We still have a lot of progress to make, but we are slowly moving in the right direction.”

Brandt said the percentage of female representation on firm governance committees, which has doubled over the past decade to nearly 25 percent, is “promising.” These roles include serving on a firm’s highest governance committee, compensation committee, or as a managing or practice group partner.

“This shows that firms are recognizing the importance of women’s voices in firm management,” she wrote.

Several survey findings indicate potential paths forward for law firms hoping to increase the number of women in their top ranks.

NAWL found that women are slightly more likely to become equity partner in firms with a one-tier partnership versus a two-tier partnership model (21 percent vs. 19 percent), a finding that is consistent with past surveys.  

The survey results also indicate that women’s initiatives may have a positive impact on representation and equal pay. According to the survey, the median woman equity partner earns 94 percent of what a median man equity partner makes in firms with more established women’s initiatives, compared to 82 percent at firms with relatively new initiatives.

NAWL’s 2017 survey was sent to the top 200 U.S. law firms in February, and responses were collected until the end of April. This year, 90 of the 200 law firms completed all or most of the survey, according to NAWL. 

Write to the reporter at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Write to the editor at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.