Women taking bigger slice of US law firm equity

By James Barnes

16 January 2013 at 13:22 BST

Women lawyers are making significant gains in the competition for equity partnership at top US firms, with those at 'one-tier' practices doing particularly well, figures released today show.

Female lawyers having a bigger say at US firms

At Am Law 200 firms, research by the American Lawyer magazine found that women at single-tier practices (where all partners have equity) currently hold nearly 18 per cent of the partnership while at two-tier firms – which are composed of equity and salaried partners—women make up 14.6 per cent of the equity partners, but 24.6 per cent of non-equity partners.

Heavy hitters

Of the 30 law firms in the top 200 that provide a gender breakdown, 22 report female equity partnership rates above 15 per cent. These firms include several heavy hitters, such as Washington DC and Boston-headquartered WilmerHale (slightly more than 23 per cent), Boston’s Ropes & Gray (nearly 21 per cent) and New York firm Davis Polk & Wardwell (about 20 per cent).
‘Multiple-tier firms affect women disproportionately because there is internal angst and infighting about business development and compensation,’ says Elizabeth Tursi, chairwoman of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum. ‘Women are less likely to fight for themselves against “the wild bunch” of men who are vying for equity status.’

Unconscious bias

Davis Polk managing partner Thomas Reid added that one-tier partnership systems also help to decrease unconscious gender bias. ‘Our all-equity, pure lockstep system is absolute. Each partner is 'all in' or not in at all. So no room for gender bias,’ Mr Reid explains, before adding  that two-tier, non-lockstep firms ‘are susceptible to distinctions without differences at best and subtle discrimination at worst’.
The research follows a survey released last autumn claiming to so that only 15 per cent of equity partners at the top US firms were women.


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