WLALA President 2019-2020
Despite promises and policy changes, experienced women attorneys are still leaving private practice at a far higher rate than men. The questions of why and what can be done about it are explored in Walking Out the Door: The Fact, Figures, and Future of Experienced Women Lawyers in Private Practice, a report recently published by The American Bar Association and ALM Intelligence. The ABA and ALM Intelligence report that “[a]mong the top reasons female lawyers gave for leaving the practice of law included: caretaking commitments, the level of stress at work, the emphasis on marketing or originating business and number of billable hours.” The report also found that senior women attorneys leave large law firms because they are not given the same opportunities to succeed. More striking was the different perceptions women and men had about the progress their firms were making toward gender equality and the advancement of women. Although firm leaders and male partners believe their firms are making strides in these areas, women at those firms feel otherwise. In addition, while women and men are similarly satisfied with the work they do, they did not feel the same sense of satisfaction when it came to receiving recognition, compensation, advancement opportunities and their firms commitment to gender diversity. The findings are similar to those included in the 2019 National Association of Women Lawyers Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, which concluded:
“The progress women have made in law firms over the last decade has been slow and incremental at best, and law firms continue to face challenges supporting and promoting women and diverse attorneys. Despite universal adoption of women’s initiatives, a ramping up of diversity initiatives, and increased awareness of the challenges women face in the law firm, there have been only small increases in overall representation of women and diverse attorneys, particularly at the more senior, higher-status positions in the law firm.”
Both reports point out that current practices to advance women attorneys either are not working or not working well enough, and that law firms need to change course. According to the authors of the ABA and ALM Institute report, “[w]hat needs fixing is the structure and culture of law firms, so firms can better address the needs of the many women they recruit and seek to retain.” To this end, they recommend nine “best practices” for law firms to implement such as hiring more female laterals, consideration of how firm policies and practices impact women attorneys, and a commitment by firm leaders to take affirmative steps to create gender diversity. Let’s hope that law firms and other employers take these recommendations to heart. If they don’t, the number of senior women leaving the practice of law will increase and the percentage of women equity partners likely will remain where it is for the foreseeable future.
The findings and recommendations in the above reports illustrate why WLALA remains so relevant today. As we approach the end of the year, I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all of WLALA’s members for being part of this amazing community and offering your time, energy and talents toward the fulfillment of WLALA’s mission. As an attorney in her late 40s and a mother of two children who are not yet old enough to drive, I understand the stress of trying to juggle a full time career and a family. It can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. WLALA keeps me energized and excited about the practice of law and the opportunity to create change that benefits future generations of female lawyers!
I hope that I will see many of you at the upcoming holiday party on December 12th at the Jonathan Club! Wishing you a joyous holiday season!
 A full copy of the report can be downloaded for free at https://www.alm.com/intelligence/solutions-we-provide/business-of-law-solutions/analyst-reports/walking-out-the-door. See also Dylan Jackson, ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’: Why Are Women Leaving Big Law (Nov. 14, 2019) https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2019/11/14/death-by-a-thousand-cuts-why-are-women-leaving-big-law-405-48434/