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Why aren't women lawyers reaching the top of their firms in pay and respect?

Years ago, the American Bar Association saw cause for concern. There were lots of female lawyers but much fewer female partners. So they set up a commission to look into why.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to Patricia Gillette, a member of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. I was prompted into a discussion with her by a gender discrimination lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in New York against Miami's Greenberg Traurig, one of the 250 largest law firms in the country.

The lawsuit made various bold claims against Greenberg.

FranFormer shareholder Francine Friedman Griesing alleges that Greenberg pays women less, promotes them at lower rates than men and virtually freezes them out from high-level managerial positions. She says women at the firm are denied their fair share of origination credit and internal referrals. Griesing also says although she was a partner, the firm's three tiered equity structure classified her into the lowest level, while less qualified men were put in the higher, more lucrative levels. She is seeking to represent a class of current and former women shareholders at the firm. 

 

Her claims of gender bias were concerns I've heard before, raised by women at various large law firms including Greenberg Traurig.

So I asked Patricia her thoughts on whether women are making real progress advancing at the country's law firms and whether pervasive gender inequity remains a problem. Patricia mentioned that the current ABA President Laurel Bellows initiated a gender equity task force this year to address bias against and equal pay for women in law.

Patricia said in recent years, the tiered partnership -- equity and non equity -- has been problem for women lawyers. It has been a way for large law firms to claim they have women partners but hide the fact that they are not promoting women into equity positions where they truly share in the profits and management decisions.

In October, the National Association of Women Lawyers came out with an revealing report:

  • It found that law firm structure has important effects on women's career paths and that they have a greater chance of becoming equity partner in one-tiered firms. Meanwhile, women are increasing clustered in positions with little opportunity for advancement in law firm leadership.

 

  • It also found women's compensation lags men's at all levels with the greatest discrepancy at the equity partner level, where women typically earn only 89% of what men make. The gap between the median compensation of male and female equity partners cannot be explained by differences in billable hours, total hours, or books of business.

 

Gillette says the ABA gender equity task force wants firms to rethink way they consider compensation, making it less subjective. A goal is to create a model law firm compensation policy to ensure women are paid equally to men.

“This has been sacred ground and firms don’t want anyone messing with compensation, but closed systems like Greenberg lead to mischief. We think putting transparency into compensation systems is imperative going forward,” she said.

Don't expect firms to readily buy in.

At Greenberg, all compensation decisions are made by CEO Richard Rosenbaum, with input from other shareholders.

Greenberg's Hilarie Bass said the firm’s compensation system has always been based on meritocracy that has nothing to do with gender. “We’re compensated based on value to clients and quality of our legal work. We prefer a closed system because it enables a more collegial atmosphere to exist.” Bass also said every year the the number of women who are big originators of new business increases as does the number of women who receive top compensation.

Still, with a closed system, it's difficult for women at the firm to confirm that to be true.

Gillette said this lawsuit may help Greenberg and other firms realize they need to work harder on getting more women into positions of leadership. While she acknowledges that there are some women lawyers who don't want to reach the top tier at their firms, she says many do. “We’ve been talking and begging firms to look at these issues for so long,” Gillette said. “I’m sorry it takes a lawsuit for firms to think about this but lawsuits are the only thing lawyers understand." 

Do you believe gender discrimination is present at big law firms? How much of pay inequity and lack of advancement is from women pulling back, seeking better work life balance, and how much of it is the way law firms are managed and structured?

 

Comments

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Truth

Simple. They don't want to. The idea that women are discriminated against is hogwash. Twenty-something female lawyers (the thin ones who are marketable on the dating/sex/marriage market) openly discuss how working is optional and 80% of them plan to stop working after "settling down" and having kids in their 30s. (They spend their 20s partying after work and riding the c__ock caroussel and their six figure incomes are spent on shoes, purses, and other accessories for them, designed to land them a husband.) Same as it ever was. Since the early 90s, law schools and law firms are totally open to 50/50 fairness for women. If anything, men are discriminated against *in the new associate* market. Greenberg, H & K, etc hire cute, thin girls to be associates for 3 to 5 years, doing research. It's harder for an average looking new law grad who's a male to get a job.

The reason the statistics show less and less women the older the age group is that it is still the case, even today, that for women working is optional but the man has no choice but to keep slaving away.

Same as it ever was. Simple as that. This is the truth, and the truth is the truth even if feminism/PC doesn't allow it to be admitted.

Truth

Now that I've read your entire post, I'll answer your question.

Yes, their is gender and race discrimination at big law firms, and the group that is discriminated against is white males, who have to *perform* better to get the same assignments/positions/titles/compensation.

Same as in the college market with "affirmative action."

Affirmative action *is* discrimination. This fact cannot be denied. We can argue about whether it's necessary or good for society, but affirmative action favoring people on the basis of race or gender IS discrimination. Period.

White males are discriminated against, especially in the "new lawyer" associate market. The Greenbergs, H & Ks, Foley & Lardners of the world make sure to hire plenty of fresh young female lawyers based on how their legs look in a skirt.

This is simply the truth. Now the question is whether it's women or men who should be complaining.

Truth

"there". typo

Truth

Where is there a blog to provide special encouragement for "working dads?" There is none, because saying "working dad" is like saying "dad dad."

Reader

Sorry to invade your blog, but let me tell you one more thing, Cindy, that is simply a fact, whether feminists want to acknowledge it or not. You might want to think about this issue, even if you don't write about it:

It is *only* in megafirms like Greenberg and H & K where so many female lawyers have jobs *at all*. Only at the megafirms with the monied corporate clients can armies of lawyers be hidden as research clerks and these corporate clients actally pay for their work (usually). At small firms, you find even *less* female lawyers, because at small firms it's all about *real* productivity or the firm does not survive.

San Antonio Conference

This is our women today. They are powerful and can deal difficult things in life. For me, discrimination is no longer applicable against women.

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