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Where are all the women law partners?

To say I'm disgusted is an understatement.

My fellow journalist, Julie Kay at the Daily Business Review, reported today that between lateral hires and promotions, Greenberg Traurig, a national law firm headquartered in Miami, named 18 new South Florida partners in the past year.

Seventeen were men.

Julie notes that by comparison, of the 24 new South Florida partners named by Akerman Senterfitt in the same period, seven are women, both laterals and promotions. That's a small number too, but at least it's better than the ratio at Greenberg.

So, what the heck is going on? Will the male partners have the nerve to say that women opt out of the partnership track because of work life issues? That's an excuse I've been hearing for decades from male leaders at law firms.  

Nationally, the percent of women law partners is slim. In a 2014 Catalyst Women in Law Survey of the 50 best law firms for women, only 19 % of the equity partners were women. The survey also shows women lawyers made 78.9% of men lawyers’ salaries in 2013.

In a statement, here is what Greenberg Traurig CEO Richard Rosenbaum told Julie: "Our annual election of new partners is based on a system of meritocracy. While we always strive to provide opportunities for a diverse group of attorneys, each year that number may fluctuate based on the pool of candidates under consideration."

Boy, that's some fluctuation because at most firms nearly 50 percent of their associates are women. I believe some women don't want to become partner, opting out for work life reasons, but let's be real...those Greenberg numbers for new female partners should be MUCH higher. 


Deborah Baker, president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, expressed disappointment at Greenberg Traurig's lopsided partner gender split in South Florida.

She told Julie: "Often there are subtle exclusions of women that prevent them from rising in the ranks, and I hope that Greenberg Traurig will engage in a meaningful examination of its own firm culture and the steps it is taking to ensure that women are able to achieve the levels of professional success that their male counterparts do."

I called Deborah Baker to get some ideas for what firms can do differently. 

One of the big challenges, she says, is societal: men need to take a bigger role in parenting. "It can't always be mom making sure the sick kid gets to the pediatrician.  Society needs to recognize there are two parents and both need to give each other's career equal priority."

I agree with Deborah. Yet, I wonder what kind of reaction a male lawyer gets when he says he needs to stay home with a sick child. (Can't your wife do it?)

In addition, Deborah believes law firm culture needs to change.  She said firms need to put their senior male partners in charge of diversity. "They need to stop looking to women to handle HR and diversity issues. They are giving the women things that take time and they don't get credit for...if diversity is important, the message needs to come from the top."

I asked Deborah what she thinks of the usual rationalization by law firm leaders that women take themselves off the partnership track. "Some women do take themselves out. Some men don't want to be partners either. But if law firms and corporations value women in leadership roles, we all need to change the expectation that mom is the only parent capable of caring for a sick child. If there's equal parenting, firms will provide flexibility for men and women and help them get through the years when their kids are young. "

Still, Deborah insists the biggest obstacle for females to making shareholder is firm culture. "Law firms are pretending they are banging their heads against the wall and honestly it's not that complicated. When the head of litigation takes male associates out and women aren't invited, when it comes time to dole out the great work assignments, he is going to give it to the people he is friendly with, the people he socializes with - the men. That culture needs to end, and it's not ending. It still goes on."

Readers, what are your thoughts on Greenberg's lopsided new group of South Florida shareholders? What do you think needs to change for women who want to advance to actually reach partnership level? Is it law firm management's responsibility to advance more women, or is there something women need to do differently?

(The Good Wife's Alicia Flores has had her battles) 

  Goodwife

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