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A survey conducted by Washington DC-based NALP – the Association for Legal Career Professionals – shows that women associates formed 45 per cent of the US legal profession, a drop of about a third of a point on the figure last year. And while the 12-month decline is relatively negligible, a report in the National Law Journal points out the figures could signal a worrying trend.
The newspaper quoted Beth Kaufman, president of the US’s National Association of Women Lawyers, who explained: ‘Every year we see a big drop-off in the number of women at law firms after seven or eight years of practice. This is starting to influence the pipeline. They're asking themselves: “If I'm not going to advance and I'm not going to make as much money, is this a profession where I want to be?”’
Despite the falling number of women associates, the research showed that female partner figures rose slightly, to nearly 20 per cent from 19.5 per cent. In addition, the number of ethnic minority partners also increased marginally by about 0.15 to 6.7 per cent.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, researchers claimed that an ‘inconsistent commitment’ to meaningful diversity policies at major English law firms was the reason women continually failed to climb up the partnership ladder in significant numbers.
The study -- conducted jointly by the 30% Club and management consultancy McKinsey – said a key inhibitor was confusion over partner promotion processes that fail to convince associate lawyers that they will be evaluated on ability.The researchers also pointed to differences between the perception men and women have of partnership and the process towards promotion.
The group suggested methods of addressing the issue include ‘embedding greater accountability for progress amongst all partners and effecting a shift from a diversity strategy focussed on women to a talent strategy, with a particular emphasis on sponsorship’. They also maintained that ‘an increased scrutiny of critical systems, such as work allocation and annual evaluation’ was also required.