Gender diversity programs fail to move needle at major US firms

by |
Efforts by major firms in the US to be more diverse organisations are not effective, a new study has found.

Despite years of efforts and nearly equal representation on entry to America’s 200 largest law firms, the parity in the ratio of men and women lawyers in these firms has not improved, ALM Legal Intelligence’s “Where Do We Go From Here? Big Law's Struggle with Recruiting and Retaining Female Talent” report found.

Women lawyers account for under a third of lawyers in the Am Law 200, a figure that has not changed over the last five years. Moreover, despite women accounting for 45% of incoming BigLaw associates, and 47% of law school graduating classes, they made up, on average, just 25% of non-equity partners and just 17% of equity partners.

The study also found that while women are represented well in niche practices like immigration (60%), family law (48%), healthcare (45%), education (45%), and labour (44%), they aren’t so in the focus practice areas of BigLaw outfits – areas like litigation (35%), banking (31%), and intellectual property (27%). The most profitable practice areas – including litigation, bankruptcy, antitrust, and M&A – also have a low percentage of women lawyers.

“Lawyers are at the forefront of the push for non-discrimination and equal opportunity under the law, but ironically, the legal profession is consistently ranked as one of the worst industries when it comes to hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. Despite efforts to change, BigLaw still has a long way to go to achieve gender parity,” said Daniella Isaacson, ALM Legal Intelligence senior analyst and author of the report.

The findings come as more and more studies indicate that gender-diverse teams are both more profitable and more innovative. The report said that research has found that gender-diverse companies outperform non-gender-diverse companies by 15%.

Other studies have also found that an increase in women in senior roles is associated with a 30% rise in profitability. Gender diversity is also linked to higher levels of retention and  improved levels of innovation, it said.

More and more clients are also holding law firms accountable for the dismal diversity of teams handling matters. Facebook recently implemented a policy that forces law firms to field diverse teams.

Related stories:
Facebook pressures law firms to ‘like’ diversity
A third of junior associates plan to leave in two years or less