Law Firms Continue Slow Progress in Promoting Women Lawyers, According to 2018 Survey by National Association of Women Lawyers

CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The number of women equity partners has only marginally increased over
more than a decade, according to the latest study by the National
Association of Women Lawyers® (NAWL). Published in the Report of the
2018 NAWL Survey on Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms, this
year’s survey found little change in the progress of women lawyers at
all levels in law firms while there has been some improvement in other,
non-compensation areas, such as representation in firm management roles.

In 2016, NAWL issued the One-Third by 2020 Challenge, renewing the call
for the legal profession to increase its representation of women to at
least one-third among Fortune 1000 general counsels, new law firm equity
partners, law firm lateral hires and law school deans. The One-Third by
2020 Challenge also calls for an increase of at least one-third in the
number of diverse women attorneys, including LGBTQ and women of color in
every segment of the legal profession. NAWL issued its first Challenge
in 2006, which included a goal to increase the proportion of women
equity partners in law firms to at least 30 percent. The 2016 One-Third
by 2020 Challenge was issued on the ten-year anniversary of that
original NAWL Challenge, demonstrating NAWL’s continued commitment to
increasing the representation of women and the diversity of the legal

For over a decade, NAWL has tracked the professional progress of women
in the nation’s 200 largest law firms by providing a comparative view of
the careers and compensation of men and women lawyers at all levels of
private practice, as well as by analyzing data about the factors that
influence career progression. This year’s results are similar to what
was reported at the start of the NAWL Challenge over a decade ago.
According to this year’s report, women comprise 20 percent of equity
partners, up only one percent from last year’s survey. Despite this
insignificant change, the survey found modest gains for women in other
areas, such as firm-wide managing partner roles and significant client
relationships – specifically the transition of the top-20 client
relationships within firms to women.

“NAWL launched its survey 12 years ago to make transparent what had been
opaque – the progression of women into equity ranks at law firms,” said
NAWL President Sarretta McDonough. “Since then, the survey has called
out the incipient inequities within law firms that continue to serve as
roadblocks to women lawyers who have been entering law firms at nearly
equal rates as men for 20 years. We will continue to measure women’s
progress under the well-accepted adage that what is measured is managed,
and we continue to push for changes in process and mindset at law firms
to realize the long overdue equality for women, including diverse and
LGBTQI women.”

For the complete report, please visit www.nawl.org/2018Survey.
Some of the survey’s key findings include:

  1. The likelihood that women will become equity partners remains on a
    sluggish upward trajectory over the last 12 years, with the data
    reflecting an increase from 15 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2018.
  2. The representation of women declines significantly with seniority at
    law firms, with women making up 47 percent of associates, 30 percent
    of non-equity partners (unchanged from last year) and 20 percent of
    equity partners.
  3. Among equity partners, women work as many hours as men, but their
    client billings are only 92 percent of those of men. The billing rates
    for men and women start at essentially equal levels at entry as
    associates but develop a 5 percent gap by the time attorneys reach
    non-equity partnership and persist at 5 percent into equity
  4. Entering classes of equity partners were 31 percent women, a slight
    drop from last year (33 percent), which failed to meet the NAWL
    One-Third by 2020 Challenge for incoming equity partner classes.
  5. Men continue to dominate the top earner spots, with 93 percent of
    firms reporting their top earner is a man and of the 10 most highly
    compensated lawyers in firms, either none or, at most, only 1 of those
    top 10 is a woman.
  6. Women make up 25 percent of firm governance roles, 22 percent of
    firm-wide managing partners, 20 percent of office-level managing
    partners, and 22 percent of practice group leaders. This is the area
    of the most progress, but the numbers still lag behind the
    representation of women in law firms and across the legal profession
    as a whole.
  7. Firms employing bias interruption interventions focus on the early
    years of lawyer training and such training drops off as lawyers
    progress into seniority, with firms reporting that the earlier in the
    process, the more likely they were to engage in bis interrupting
    processes and procedures: 89 percent at recruitment, 86 percent at
    hiring, 70 percent for performance evaluations, 58 percent at
    promotion, 44 percent at elevation to non-equity partner, and 54
    percent at elevation to equity partner.
  8. The median woman equity partner earns 91 percent of what the median
    male equity partner makes and 88 percent of what the mean male equity
    partner makes. However, women equity partners generate 94 percent of
    the revenue that male equity partners generate.
  9. Among new relationship partners – those who inherited clients due to
    transitions within firms’ top 20 clients – 36% are women; overall
    women are the relationship partner for 20% of all top 20 clients.
  10. People of color, women of color, LGBTQI and persons with disabilities
    fare worse across all positions. People of color make up about 8
    percent of equity partners, and only two percent of equity partners
    are women of color. Openly LGBTQI attorneys represent only 2 percent
    of equity partners, and persons with disabilities represent less than
    1 percent. These percentages match those measured in 2015 after a dip
    in the representation of people of color in equity partnership last

Survey Methodology

The NAWL survey was sent in the Spring of 2018 to the AmLaw 200. Of the
200 firms contacted, 97 completed all or significant portions of the

About the National Association of Women Lawyers

The mission of the National Association of Women Lawyers is to provide
leadership, a collective voice and essential resources to advance women
in the legal profession and advocate for the equality of women under the
law. Since 1899, NAWL has been empowering women in the legal profession,
cultivating a diverse membership dedicated to equality, mutual support,
and collective success. NAWL’s membership is comprised of individual
attorneys, including private practice, corporate, academic, government
and non-profit attorneys, and groups, including law firms, corporate
legal departments, law schools and bar associations. For more than a
century, NAWL has been the leading voice on issues relating to the
advancement of women in the legal profession. Learn more at www.nawl.org.


National Association of Women Lawyers
Caitlin Kepple


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