A new study finds that women are picking up some ground when it comes to making partner at major law firms despite the legal industry’s ongoing gender equity challenges.
The new report released by the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, a think tank that advocates for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, said that roughly 41.3% of lawyers promoted to partnership across 138 major firms in the U.S. in 2019 were women, up from 38.9% last year.
This marks a substantial increase from 2012 when the Alliance began collecting data, and the share of women among new partner classes was only about 33%.
The report does not reflect all partnership announcements made so far in 2019, as it covers promotions from Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019.
Of those law firms surveyed, 51 firms, or 37%, reported a 50/50 gender split or greater in favor of women, which is an increase from 31.3% of law firms in 2018 and 32.3% in 2017. Those law firms also promoted an average of 11.3 attorneys to partner, up from 8.3 last year.
The 51 law firms were recognized Nov. 7 at the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance’s annual conference. Among them were Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which last year promoted an all-female partner class. Other Big Law firms in the mix included Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Boies Schiller Flexner, White & Case, and Debevoise & Plimpton.
“Things are moving. It’s good to mark progress, it’s good to celebrate bright spots,” said Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance.
But more work continues to be needed to be done when it comes to overall partnership ranks, she said.
In the legal industry as a whole, the number of women promoted to partnership outpaces the total percentage of women partners as reported by the National Association for Legal Placement, which noted that in 2018 women made up 23.4% of partners.
The percentage of attorneys promoted to partner in 2018 who were women fell below the 45.9 % of associates and 51.4 % of summer associates who were female, according to NALP data. But the gap between these stats narrowed substantially this year, the Alliance’s report noted.
There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in terms of rooting out unconscious bias in the legal industry and developing a pipeline of diverse attorneys, Morales said.
It’s also looking to see if women are getting the kinds of assignments, opportunities, mentorship and sponsorship that they need in order to continue to advance, Morales said.
“Women are coming into firms still in equal numbers,” she said. “It’s how are we advancing them, how are we retaining them.”