NAWL Report on Retention and Advancement of Women Lawyers Discouraging

The annual report of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) was released earlier this week on October 22nd.  As I expected, the news is not good for the retention and advancement of women lawyers.  Below are a few excerpts from the report that are particularly troubling.  As you can see, there is still a great deal of work to be done by groups like NAWL and projects like Best Friends at the Bar.

It is important to keep in mind that this report is based on a survey of the nation’s 200 largest law firms.  Although many of you will choose different career paths and different practice settings, you still need to understand the current status of women in the profession and the trends regarding compensation, partnership and leadership, to name just a few.

“We are disappointed that women lawyers are still not reaching the highest levels of big firm practice or leadership in significant numbers,” said NAWL President Beth Kaufman,Partner at Schoeman Updike & Kaufman LLP in New York. And the pipeline of women available for advancement may be shrinking: for the second year in a row, the proportion of women entering big-firm practice has decreased. If this trend continues, it could trigger a downward spiral for women in the profession — we could see fewer women senior partners and law firm leaders in the future, and thus fewer role models and mentors for succeeding cohorts of women lawyers.”

NAWL Foundation President Stephanie Scharf, a Partner at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC in Chicago, who founded the NAWL Annual Survey, noted that “the gap between male and female compensation at the equity partner level does not correlate with male/female differences in billable hours, total hours or books of business, begging the question of how firms actually set compensation for their partners.”

The report also stated that “women still typically hold only 20% of the positions on a firm’s highest governance committee, and only 4% of firms have a woman as the firm-wide managing partner.”

So, you see, there is a reason that I keep reporting to you on these issues.  They are real, and they are disturbing.  We all hope that the situation for women in Big Law will improve because that sets the stage for improvement for women throughout the profession.  We also should hope that women lawyers who cannot succeed in that practice setting will have the confidence to transition their practices to alternative practice settings.

We all need to start treating the practice of law as the privilege that it is and find our places within the context of the larger picture, which includes the alternative practice settings.  Only then will many of you be content enough to stay in practice for your benefit and the benefit of a profession that needs your skills, your unique perspectives and your talent to assure best practices.

To read the complete NAWL Annual Report, go to

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