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June 3, 2011 4:41 PM

Report: Promotion of Women to Partnership Stalled in 2011

Posted by Julie Triedman

Note, 6/6/2011, 3:45 pm EDT - The data presented in PAR's report includes only the U.S. offices of the law firms surveyed, not international offices.

Correction, 6/6/2011, 5:00 pm EDT - Debevoise & Plimpton was not among the firms with no promotion of women to partner in its U.S. offices, as the PAR report incorrectly notes.

At a time when associates are chasing fewer spots as partners, women lawyers continue to lag behind their male peers in becoming partners, according to the latest data from the Project for Attorney Retention.

The fact that large law firms promote fewer female associates than male associates to partnership isn't news, nor is it surprising. But it appears that the spread is growing--new male partners outnumbered new female partners more than two to one this year, PAR reports. Even more discouraging is the fact that the number of promotions of women has fallen year over year. The promotion rate of women at the 123 large law firms surveyed fell 2 percentage points this year, from 34 percent to 32 percent.

While the decrease is small, "it has to be viewed in context," says PAR executive director Manar Morales. "There are few female partners to begin with, and even fewer female equity partners," Morales says. "This dip further delays the day when women lawyers will achieve parity in the profession."

Recent data from other organizations about women in the profession support Morales's conclusion. Last year, the National Association of Women Lawyers reported that women made up 60 percent of staff attorney positions, a non-partnership-track tier, while they made up only 15 percent of equity partners at large firms. Further evidence of the growing disparity is in a November report from the National Association for Law Placement showing that women and minorities have not fared well in the recession.

The PAR report details the firms with the most women as a percentage of total new partners, in the U.S. (international offices were not included as part of the report). They include: Beveridge & Diamond (six promotions, 83 percent female); Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (11 promotions, 73 percent female); Thompson Hine (seven promotions, 71 percent female); and Baker & Daniels (six promotions, 67 percent female). Only one Wall Street firm, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, made the top 15 list; it promoted one partner, a woman. 

Several firms, meanwhile, did not promote a single woman to partnership this year in the U.S.. These include: Hunton & Williams (six promotions, none female); Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton (six promotions, none female); Davis Polk & Wardwell (four promotions, none female); Lowenstein Sandler; and several others. The "bottom list," as PAR describes it, includes a few firms that were at the top of the list last year.

Milbank and Lowenstein have not promoted a single woman associate in the past three years, according to PAR's previous reports; Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and Kaye Scholer promoted no women in two out of the past three years.

There were a few bright spots in the report. Of the 123 firms surveyed, 20 had new partner classes that were at least half women, PAR notes--an increase over previous years.

Why do some firms do so much better on female promotions? In this November story on Wilmer's new partner class from sibling blog The Careerist--eight women in a class of 11--co-managing partner William Perlstein could not pinpoint why the firm promoted so many women. But one of the newly named partners who is still on a part-time schedule, Jennifer Berrent, said the firm's culture and attitude towards flexible work schedules made it easier for her to stay on track. "I don't feel I'm fighting the system here," she said.

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