OPEN UNIVERSITY OCTOBER 23, 2007
A report from a group of law students called "Building a Better Legal Profession" showed up in my e-mailbox the other day. The students did a survey of the big law firms to see how they measured up on a variety of diversity issues -- women partners, minority partners, etc. Since law firm hiring is a market, why shouldn't female and minority students at least know what they were buying into?
What interested me the most is their retention rate survey, in which they compared the percentage of women associates with the percentage women or minorities who made partner. I used this technique in one of my books, "A Woman's Guide to Law School" (Penguin 1999), comparing the percentage of women in the relevant classes to the percentage who made Law Review and Coif to generate a rough ranking of law schools where women succeed.
Turns out big law firms, like law schools, which seem so much alike, are actually somewhat different in the rate at which, for example, women succeed. The firm Jones, Day, where women succeed at the greatest rate has a 52% female retention rate. 43% of their associates are women and 22% of the partners are. The lowest ranking Fulbright and Jaworski retains 12% of women to partner: 55% associates are women, but only 7% partners.
Even after my last couple of years laboring in the Opt Out "Revolution" I was saddened to see how few women make it into the well-paid and powerful ranks of partners in big national law firms at all. When I called the diversity coordinator for the "best" firm, Jones, Day, she refused to comment on placement in or out but turned me on to a report from the Massachusetts Bar Association and MIT. The report described the process as one where women leave firms before the partnership decision at almost twice the rate as men do and among the leavers of both genders women go to non-firm alternative jobs at even greater rates than that. So at the end of the process, the numbers are as the Stanford students reported them.
Well, knowledge is power as they say. So I am wondering what the more than 50% female members of today's law school classes are thinking about the Stanford students' findings.