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November 17, 2008 6:22 PM

Status Quo for Women Lawyers, Says Latest NAWL Report

Posted by Ed Shanahan

The National Association of Women Lawyers today issued its third annual report on the status of women in law firms. No news in this news, since the findings reconfirm what The Am Law Daily already knows--women are underrepresented at top levels of law firms, paid less at every stage of practice than male lawyers, and promoted to equity partner at a rate that should shock us, but doesn't.

This year, though, the folks at NAWL and the NAWL Foundation have added a new category that we've been curious about lately--they've considered what the market for women laterals is and how much lateral moves affect women's promotion to equity partner.

As it happens, we were just musing about this given that few of the moves we report on in our own Churn column mention women. Is this just because there are fewer women partners? Or are there other reasons why women maybe don't jump around as much as men?

We went looking for answers on pages 14 to 16 of the 24-page report, in the section titled The Market for Lateral Partners: How Does It Affect Women? (or, "Should She Stay or Should She Go?"). The report confirms some of our suspicions--turns out, based on NAWL's sample, that male laterals are recruited more often for equity partnership than their female counterparts.

Another stat, the report says, suggests that "a woman lawyer's career strategy would favor staying at her original firm"--at the average large law firm, women make up almost 30 percent of new home-grown equity partners but only 17 percent of new equity partners who've lateraled in.

Still, there are plenty of questions on this front that we're still wondering about--and which the report, too, acknowledges should someday be addressed: Are women lawyers pursuing lateral moves in the same proportion as their male peers? (Our educated guess: no.) Do women who pursue lateral moves have different credentials than those women who don't? And what about the glut of laterals on the market thanks to the slowing economy and the recent dissolution of several big firms--this National Law Journal story says today's job seekers face high expectations from law firms looking to hire lawyers with substantial business. This, too, might put the women at a disadvantage.

We'll be looking at some of these questions on our own, but meantime, Am Law Daily readers, please tell us what you think.

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