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"Some of My Best Friends are Women": Why The New List of Women-Friendly Firms is Irrelevant at Best

I think I might just scream if I read another vapid blog post in praise of the new list of 50 "woman-friendly" law firms (find the link yourself; if you can't, how in the heck did you find this site?). What rushes to one's mind upon reading the results, however, is that it becomes glaringly obvious that precious little of note is actually being said. Bottom line: Some firms have a (very) few more women than others. Some firms have better benefits that more often impact women than men. Some firms apparently have better marketing departments.

I mean, honestly, look at the numbers. The identified "top-50" have partner cadres comprised of about 10 and 20% women. You might notice that these numbers do not square with the near-ubiquitous parity of the two genders among the associate ranks. (Sorry, non-gender-specific individuals are not numerous enough to be ranked). So what precisely are we praising here?

Are firms to be commended for still having women vastly underrepresented among the partnership ranks? For that matter, is it particularly note-worthy that large firms have better benefits than others that happen to benefit women or "flex-time" types of both genders? Is it particularly praiseworthy that the more sophisticated firms are doing everything their poor imaginations can come up with to retain talent at any cost no matter what their genitalia? Given the consensus, among lawyers at least, that women are the complete equals of men in intellect and the near absence of fear left among male lawyers of female leaders, then I would have to say "no". These numbers are not newsworthy. At least not as intended.

What precisely then is this list supposed to tell us? Frankly, I don't think it tells us anything that we don't already know. Neither do I think the list does, will or should have any impact on female lawyers' decisions as to the best law firms to work for.

Let's face it, the real pioneering work for women in law firms has already been done (although many thanks to those women who did that work!). The next frontier for law firms is not whether or not women are practice group leaders, managing partners or anything else--the next frontier is not about gender.

As a recruiter, I can tell you that there is no resistance whatever in firms for women leaders. Rather, firms are screaming at me for more women. I just can't find them.

Of course, women are still self-selecting out of practice for lots of reasons. Not the least of these is the still-present assumption among women and men both that women get stuck doing mommy duty (and of course there's that little biological thing). Now, I do believe that there is plenty of work to be done in firms in accommodating a variety of lifestyles, and the part-time/flex-time/smooshy-time movement has a place in law firms. But I certainly don't give firms any credit for being no further along the curve than, let's say, your average corporate structure. Frankly, lots of men bail out of law for the same reasons that women do (at least this one did); it just doesn't get noticed.

Mostly though, firms just want you 28 hours per day, no matter what you look like. I just don't see how we can still call that a gender issue.

And I have to say, the race and sexual preference barriers have also been largely destroyed, at least in major markets. When the president of the bar association for the capital of the nation is an openly gay African-American (Melvin White, pictured), you know that we are in a whole new world.

That brings me back to the list. I'm afraid you aren't going to get me to jump up and down because a few law firms have a few more percentage points of female partners than others and that a few have gone to better consultants than others to adopt better benefits packages more favorable to women. This is news?

When you can find me 50 firms of 50 or more attorneys that have 50% women partners and 50% female practice group leaders, I'll deign to golf clap.

Immediately thereafter, I'll start asking you real questions, like about your firm's plan for growing its China and India practices and how many MBAs and non-lawyer strategists you have on staff.

The dialogue has moved on, folks. Tell me I'm wrong.


Does anyone have a high-resolution photo of Melvin White?

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