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Analysis of women in private practice jobs makes for depressingly same-y reading

Posted by: Laurence Simons 08/11/12

Think back to 2005, when the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) first starting tracking women's progression at the 200 largest private practice firms in the US, publishing the figures in an annual report. The iPhone was not a thing. Lindsay Lohan was still cute. And 15 per cent of women made up equity partners.

Flash forward to 2012, and things have changed for the iPhone and Lindsay Lohan's face. Changed majorly. But the 15 per cent figure still remains the same: NAWL's annual report, published this week, shows that less than a fifth of equity partners at Biglaw firms are women, while just 26 per cent of nonequity partners are women. In short: gender inequality is still very much evident, despite vocal efforts from Biglaw in recent years that has seen firms bump their chests and shout about how they are going to redress the balance.

As The Careerist's Vivian Chen reports, the figures from the latest NAWL report don't especially make for good reading. Putting aside the 15 per cent figure for a moment, women in lower-status positions are approaching equality - 46 per cent of associates and 35 per cent of counsel are women, while that rises to 70 per cent among staff attorneys. Which might sound good, but in fact means the real gap exists between the lower rungs of the legal ladder and the partner track. One way or another, women are missing out on key career opportunities.

Similarly, compensation is affected. Report author Barbara Flom pointed out that women get smaller bonuses than their male counterparts, receiving just 40 per cent of the bonus pot despite making up 50 per cent of all associates.

And women are credited with a smaller median book of business, too. This year's NAWL analysis took an in-depth look at the relationship between compensation and median hours worked, and found a slight shortage in billable hours among women attorneys. What does that translate to? "Though men's and women's total hours are largely comparable, Flom says it's 'troubling' that women are consistently billing fewer annual hours than men," says Chen. Essentially, an annual shortfall of 50 or 60 hours could be seen as a lack of commitment by those higher up the pecking order that could hold women back from further opportunities. This figure is seen as proof that the perception of women's capabilities in the legal field is as broken as the pay gap between them and men.

So what can be done? Ah… um. Well, you can wait for NAWL's 2013 report with crossed fingers and hope that it brings good news? Or, you can think about making a move: talk to our expert recruiters and see if another firm is a better fit for you.