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Yale Law Women Caution Firms About Virus Impact on Gender Equity

May 20, 2020, 4:16 PM

A group of Yale law students has warned in the latest edition of their annual report on gender equity in Big Law that firms should beware the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the women and caregivers in their ranks.

The Yale Law Women report, now in its 15th year, has long been a benchmark for students from top ranked law schools searching for information about potential Big Law employers’ commitments to gender equity.

Yale Law Women is a non-partisan organization that advocates for women and people of underrepresented gender identities at the school and within the broader profession.

In a note at the top of the report, the student group addressed the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women generally, who are overrepresented among nurses, hospital staff, and professional caregivers.

“In the coming months, how the firms in this report respond to this crisis will influence the future of the industry,” the report says. “These firms should strive to respond equitably to questions including how to accommodate employees’ domestic responsibilities and healthcare needs and which employees they retain if layoffs become unavoidable.”

The report draws on answers to a survey sent by Yale Law Women to all Vault Law 100 firms, with a participation rate of just over 50 percent. The report also contains data from an anonymous survey of Yale Law alumni who work at the firms. The survey itself, which was completed prior to the pandemic-promoted shutdown of many firms and businesses, did not directly address law firms’ responses to the pandemic, according to Yale Law Women.

“Nonetheless, many of the disparities identified in the report are likely to be aggravated by Covid-19, such as issues of work-life balance, caregiver responsibilities, and establishing relationships with mentors,” said rising second-year student Sarah Baldinger.

During the Great Recession, women and minorities at law firms felt negative effects disproportionately and diversity advocates have expressed fear that history could repeat itself. The percentage of black women associates at law firms, for instance, has still not returned to its 2009 level according to 2019 National Association of Law Placement data.

The Yale Women report has historically broken out a top ten list of firms that have the most success in building gender equity, but this year the students opted for a different format.

Instead of creating one holistic list, Yale Law Women recognized firms for standing out in ten specific categories relating to gender equity and diversity: hiring practices, diverse partnership, inclusion initiatives, LGBTQ+ representation, promotion practices, women in leadership, flexible work options, advancement for part-time attorneys, parental and caregiver leave, and working mothers & family planning.

“The firms recognized in this report are leaders in the industry,” said Anna Kaul, a rising third-year student and chair of the Yale Law Women top firms committee. “Responding to the pandemic with equity in mind will set an important example for other law firms.”

The top firms in a selection of categories are as follows:

  • Parental and Caregiver Leave: Ballard Spahr, Foley Hoag, and Kirkland & Ellis.
  • Hiring Practices: Allen & Overy, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Jenner & Block, Linklaters, Munger, Tolles & Olson, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
  • Diverse Partnership: Morrison & Foerster, Munger, Tolles & Olson, and Steptoe & Johnson.

No one firm stood out across categories, though a few appeared in more than one.

“Many of our alumni commented that, while their firm excelled in one area, there was room for improvement in others,” said Kaul. “We hope our report reflects this reality.”

To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Tom Taylor in Washington at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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