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Women Lawyers Taking More Roles in Firm Leadership

Women lawyers are taking 25 percent of the governance roles in top law firms, nearly double the amount in the last decade.

That is the brightest spot in a new report on the promotion and retention of women in American law firms. Otherwise, the National Association of Women Lawyers' survey shows little change for female lawyers in the top jobs.

"While the number of women equity partners has increased from 16 percent in 2007, it remained largely unchanged in the last 10 years," the 2017 report says.

Biggest Changes

Overall, law firms are hiring women in nearly equal numbers as men. However, women are largely underrepresented as equity partners -- even though at 19 percent the rate is at an all-time high.

Meanwhile, women are serving on the highest governance committees, compensation committees, or as a managing or practice group leaders in greater numbers than ever. The biggest changes have occurred at the largest firms with established initiatives for women.

The report confirms findings in another survey earlier this year, showing the average percentage of female partners "continues to hover just shy of 20 percent."

"It just hasn't risen substantially in decades," said Joan Williams, director of the Center for Worklife at the University of California at Hastings. "What we should be looking for is progress, and that's not what we're seeing."

Future Trends

The women lawyers' survey said 30 percent of non-equity partners are women in 2017, compared to 26 percent five years ago. "If that trend continues, we will see an increase in overall numbers," said Angela Brandt, president of NAWL.

Brandt also noted a "promising statistic" in the report of women serving on governing committees. That number doubled in the past ten years.

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