January 18, 2012

Only one-third of new partners at big law firms are female.

Does that make you think it's harder or easier to make partner if you enter a big law firm and you are female?
Most people who end up in Biglaw have no desire to make partner. They want to do it for a few years, pay off their debts, and build up some credentials so they can do what they really want to do. But some people show up at the firm so hungry for the brass ring that they can taste it. You know what they say: “Making partner is like winning a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.” Yet there isn’t a lot of analysis and study about what one actually has to do to win this career race.
See the point of my question?

44 comments:

traditionalguy said...

The law firms need to impose a height requirement. Short women should not be considered partner material.

Seriously, the making of money by careful processing masses of paperwork is a known female talent. The English understand this; and their short women become Solicitors and their tall men become Barristers.

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

Is it possible that these women are held back because the men make fun of their speech impediments?

The other women certainly wouldn't do such a thing. Certainly there's no evidence of such in this thread.

Lyssa said...

I'm honestly surprised that it's that many. When I read things by/interact with young women in my profession, it often seems like all I hear is "work-life balance" and "flex-time" and "I'm gonna take 6 months maternity leave (and it's absolutely scandelous if an employer doesn't wish to pay for maternity leave)" Then they complain about being "mommy-tracked" or "the patriarchy".

If I try to point out that the highly successful men that they are jealous of, I mean, wish to emulate, don't ask for these extras and time offs, I get told that American workplaces need to accept that people can't do it all and how much we should be more like Europe.

Sigh.

sleepless nights said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
30yearProf said...

Most women are too smart to accept the narrowly focused life of a big law partner. Advancing positions you would rather oppose and doing so on behalf of client's you wouldn't want your child to marry can cost you your soul. Most women aren't willing to pay that cost even for the Big Brass Ring.

Alex said...

I don't understand why any firm is obligated to structure everything around women with kids. A law firm is not a day care center.

EMD said...

So the reward is more pie?

I think being a female lesbian would have its advantages.

Ann Althouse said...

I worked in a big law firm for 2 years. The first year I was pregnant and took a 3-month maternity leave. Paid! The second year I searched for a lawprof job, traveled to interviews, and accepted an offer, then continued to work until my new job started.

It was very rewarding.

ALP said...

Lyssa: what you said!

The "one-third" observation is useless unless we also know how many women want to make partner at a big law firm. I mean really want it...not just parroting the words.

madAsHell said...

My wife survived 5 years in a law firm. We nearly split the sheets.

A law firm is a HUGE commitment. There's a lot of divorce, and alcoholism.

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

I had a good conversation w/ a Volvo VP and General Council* for Europe at an airport a few weeks ago.

She, a Harvard grad, did say that choosing her current position (which still seemed fairly prestigious to me) was a conscious decision to step back from a higher-powered, more time consuming job.

Anywho, she was on her way from Brussels to ski w/ her daughter in Colorado, so maybe some law gals do choose family time over advancement at work.


*I think that was her title. If I really cared I could check her card, which she gave me.

David said...

It's harder for a woman to become a partner if she has kids. It's harder for a woman to do anything outside the home if she has kids.

Is this injustice? It is if you think injustice occurs if the man does not have the same obstacle. Generally he does not, because he does not actually bear the children and usually is less in demand by small children.

It is not injustice if you focus on the woman's choice to have children, and the advantage the female has in being able to move in and out of the workplace with less stigma.

The whole issue is overblown anyway. Men and women who have such choices are very fortunate. The perfectly level playing field is a utopian fiction.

Count your blessings.

Dan in Philly said...

Those women who do make partner deseve what they get. SWIDT?

Browndog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

Browndog: I deleted it, along with all the early comments including my own. I may have been overaggressive in my effort to restart this thread.

You can repost, but please tweak it to help me see why it is serious.

Ann Althouse said...

"It's harder for a woman to become a partner if she has kids. It's harder for a woman to do anything outside the home if she has kids."

Do you mean a woman who does not have the children's father in the home working as the primary caregiver? That may be rare, but it is an important exception, and it is an exception that was TRUE in my case.

Lyssa said...

Do you mean a woman who does not have the children's father in the home working as the primary caregiver? That may be rare, but it is an important exception, and it is an exception that was TRUE in my case.

A very important distinction. However, in my experience, most (not all!) "high acheiving" women do no wish to settle for a man who is beneath them, as in, one who does not have the same education/earning power/ambition as them.

They want it all, including the high-powered husband. I don't pretend to get it, but I've gotten enough weird looks from "feminists" when I stated my intent to have my husband stay home that I know it is true.

ricpic said...

So what do they really want to do?

MadisonMan said...

Who wants to be Rosalind Shays? Look what happened to her! (Best. TV. Death. EVER!)

Amartel said...

Rosalind Shays? The female partner who stepped backward and fell down the open elevator shaft on LA Law, right?

That was awesome.
What was her last line?

John Lynch said...

Men as primary caregiver take an enormous hit- it cost me 1.5 million dollars. Society has changed enough to accept women working (good) but hasn't accepted the necessary corollary of men caring for small children.

Still, it was worth it.

David said...

Yes, I was assuming that the man was not staying home to be the caregiver. That exception remains so rare that I blew right by it.

I wonder what kind of day in day out caregiver I would have been. Probably a cranky one.

John Lynch said...

David-

It's hard for men to take care of small babies. Women really are better at it.

But it's doable, and there was no other way so I did it.

Ann Althouse said...

"... in my experience, most (not all!) "high acheiving" women do no wish to settle for a man who is beneath them, as in, one who does not have the same education/earning power/ambition as them. They want it all, including the high-powered husband..."

I think a lot of women with demanding and rewarding professional careers know the value of a strong partner at home, just as men know that. A family is a unit that functions as a whole, economically and meeting responsibilities. The more "high-powered" your career is, the more you need a partner who is there paying attention to everything else (unless you opt out of having children).

If this "high-powered" woman is so distracted by convention and image that she insists on a "high-powered" career man and children, she's not as smart and perceptive as she should be.

And it's offensive to speak of the home-based spouse as subordinate and inferior. Let's look at the specifics of what any given individual is contributing. In my case, my children's father, my first husband, was (and is) a brilliant writer, and there was no inferiority at all to what he was doing. And frankly, I thought highly of myself for being in a family like that, where art mattered and we were not conventional.

John Lynch said...

It's all very nice until you get disowned for staying with the kid.

Social pressure is an enormous force. And women do it, too.

As a man you CAN'T stay home without paying an real and very expensive price. Not just money, but social standing and esteem. When I got a job again after the kid got older it was amazing how things changed. Suddenly people wanted to talk to me again.

It's simply not OK for a man to play the role of a housewife. And there are sanctions- lost friends, employment opportunities, family strife.

Men and women are not interchangeable. They have different expectations and different roles. That's how it is.

Maybe I should write about this.

sleepless nights said...
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holdfast said...

Most of the biglaw firms are DESPERATE to make more female partners - they know they are under scrutiny, and they also know that lots of talented female attorneys with partner potential are bailing for the mommy track. A smart, talented female attorney who is prepared to bust her *ss and jump through the same hoops as the men has a significantly better chance of making partner than a male of equal caliber, simply because there are is much bigger pool of men willing to do whatever it takes to get the brass ring, and because the firms really do want to have at least some female partners. I haven't seen stats on this, but I would bet that if you look at say, the pool of 3rd or 4th year associates who decide that they are really going to dedicate the next 5+ years of their life to becoming a partner, the females in that group are more likely to make it.

I'd also note that in today's economy firms are making you wait much longer to make partner - from say 6 to 9 years a decade ago to 8 to 12, or even more, today (averages, each firm varies of course) which means it is much harder to first make partner and then have kids, as you're moving into high-risk territory. Also the whole environment is much tougher then it once way - now once you make partner you have to really double-down on the client development front, plus committee work, etc.

Profits per partner at biglaw firms are pretty awesome, but it is far from easy money.

Ann Althouse said...

" A smart, talented female attorney who is prepared to bust her *ss and jump through the same hoops as the men has a significantly better chance of making partner than a male of equal caliber..."

That was my guess (and the reason I asked the question I did in the post).

Dan in Philly said...

John Lynch, it did not "Cost" you $1.5 million to stay at home to raise your kids. It only cost you the experience of making and then presumably spending that money. If you had instead made the money, it would have been at the cost of raising your kids.

Life is only lived once, and when we choose option 1 we forgo option 2. If you want to try to put a dollar sign on everything, you can, but that's an extremely arbitrary and ridiculous way to measure if you have lead a successful life.

Can we say that Ghandi was a failure since his dedication to his causes cost him the millions he probably would have made as an advocate? Can we call a priest unsuccessful when he entered his calling, even though he might have given up a promising medical career? No, because both chose what they believed were more rewarding paths than persuing dollars and cents, and I highly doubt either ever boasted to his friends how much money they left on the table when they made their choice.

I don't mean to pick on you too much for your turn of phrase, I agree with your general sentiment that choosing to be a parent is rewarding.

Lyssa said...

Althouse said: If this "high-powered" woman is so distracted by convention and image that she insists on a "high-powered" career man and children, she's not as smart and perceptive as she should be.

Bingo. Most of the ones who give me that bad reaction would also count themselves as liberals.

And it's offensive to speak of the home-based spouse as subordinate and inferior.


100 percent agree. I hope that my post did not indicate that I felt that way.

Skyler said...

Seeing as how there is still a tremendous number of women who decide to not stay in the work force when mommy time comes, I think a more appropriate headline would be, "Fully one-third of new partners at big law firms are female."

An entire third are women and yet the world still thinks this is too little. Good grief.

DADvocate said...

It makes me wonder how many women are seeking employment at big law firms and being hired. And, how many want to be partners.

My sister graduated from law school in the mid-1970s. She was divorced with a daughter working in a law firm and not making much money after she paid her share of office expenses. She quickly went for a public defender job and from there to a state government job where she's been ever since.

Her daughter, who graduated from a highly respected law school #1 in her class, has taken a similar path. All government jobs.

Are women seeking out the more stable law jobs with predictable income, etc? Is this leaving big law firms with fewer women, say about equaling 1/3 of the attorneys in the firms?

John Lynch said...

Dan, yes it did cost me 1.5 million dollars. I'm not talking abstraction but real honest to god greenbacks. Your point is taken and I agree with it, but there is always a price.

My father disowned me and my sister got the money when he died. I found out only after that happened- we were on good terms and I was taking care of him. No one told me beforehand.

Why? Because my wife worked and I didn't. My son has some kind of disability and my wife had health insurance with her job, so I stayed home. Not good enough.

Social costs are real. Rules have sanctions to enforce them. If you want to break convention, you pay. I'm fine with that, but too many people want to ignore the fact that the convention exists. Men can't fill the same social roles as women without a price.

I made the right choice, but there's enormous pressure for men to work and achieve. Not everyone will pay like I did, but men generally have different expectations. You have to achieve, not do the day-to-day drudgery of raising children. And women enforce this convention just as vigorously as men do.

There's a lot of ink spilled about women "breaking barriers" but the corollary that men have to be allowed to pick up the slack is ignored. If we are going to have an egalitarian society men need a broader set of roles. Obviously, men aren't very interested in a lot of things women do, but less obviously women don't really want men to fill them.

ALP said...

Doesn't making partner also require forking over a bunch of $$$$ to the firm? So it isn't just about dedication and working hard, you also have to "buy in" - correct?

There could be important gender differences there in terms of how one relates to money. Women may be less inclined to assume the risk entailed with "investing" in being partner.

holdfast said...

@DadAdvocate - my incoming class was about 50/50 - most are similar. A lot of my female friends and classmates went AG's Office / Government after 3 or 4 years - less money but way more family friendly. And most of them are married to lawyers or business guys who earn or are trying to earn the big bucks.

@ALP - generally you finance it, either through a bank or the firm (i.e. it comes off you paycheck, post-tax of course), though not all firms are the same.

That 1/3 number is very much an average - some firms have quite a few, some almost note. Very much based on firm culture and practice group weighting within the firm.

Sorun said...

In the item linked to, the words boobs and sausage appear but not the word "children."

ricpic said...

I've never been able to spend more than 10 minutes in the presence of a have it all female without the overwhelming desire to cut and run. Which I did. Every time.

Chuck66 said...

Yet a slick lawyer will find discrimination based on statistical data. If the population is 50% female, yet only 33% of new partners are female, that is enough to show discrimination.

Alex said...

How many women are in coal mining? It should be 50% right?

holdfast said...

@chuck66 - maybe, but lawyers, especially partner-types, guard the doors to their fraternity pretty zealously. It would be tough to get serious legal firepower behind that suit.

sean said...

Further to what John Lynch said: being a woman with a fancy degree who now stays home with kids while her spouse earns big bucks is generally a high-status position. Almost no one (except maybe Linda Hirschorn) will disrespect you; most of the other suburban matrons will admire both your intelligence and your ability to snag a high-status man. In contrast, being a man with a fancy degree doing the same is a low-status position: the other men in Westport or on Park Avenue will look down you because you don't have a job, and while having a babelicious wife might be mildly status-enhancing, having a high-earning one only points up that you can't provide for yourself.

Very few people want to take on status-lowering activities. You will note that Prof. Althouse, free spirit though she be, didn't remain in the New York law/finance world where her lifestyle, however secretly satisfying to her, would have translated into disrespect from her peers. She moved into a world where unconventional lifestyles do garner respect. (And even so, the marriage didn't last, though I don't know why that was.)

All of which is why I quit my government lawyer job when I married a woman who worked in the law department at a big bank, and went back to the private sector, because I couldn't abide the scorn of my companions.

holdfast said...

I don't think Ann really took advantage in her law firm job - I suspect the hierarchy knew she was not in it for the long haul, but as long as she did her assigned work and added sufficient value while she was there, then both parties should have been content and presumably parted on good terms. That's the thing about law jobs, at least in a good place - it's not personal, it's just business.

Mary said...

"I don't think Ann really took advantage in her law firm job"

Gee, I wonder what that would look like...

"Boys, I got a babe at home. I'm out the door at 5! I'll be here 6 months this year -- pay me for the full year. I'm out the door after I'm done with my "work" here, but you got a "woman" name on your roster now, and I want to the big pay for that... Plus accommodations whilst I check out my "options" diversifying up a law firm staff... Oh I enjoy being a girl!"

Cmon. She could never play her hand that way now.
"Bye bye sistah! Don't let the door hit yer ass on the way out!"

No wonder poor Johnny is having troubles making partner...

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