Last week the American Lawyer reported the results of its first “Women in Law” survey. Despite the occasional standout firm, women still account for approximately 1 in 5 big firm partners. The Am Law 200 does much better than the Am Law 100, with 60% of the former reporting an average of 19% women partners while only 41% of the Am Law 100 reported the same.
The article’s companion piece “Back Door to the Top” was one of the first I have seen that highlights one of the most ignored diversity loopholes — the fact that many surveys, reports or articles ignore the drastic difference between attaining income and equity partnership. Ironically, American Lawyer’s “Women In Law” survey did just this. Most lawyers who have spent any time in large law firms can attest that the status of income partnership is, by and large, akin to a glorified associate status since income partners do not share in the profits of the firm. As a result, when firms are able to report that they have 23% women partners, the number appears to be well above the national average and suggests a progressive firm where perhaps the path to the top is slightly smoother than elsewhere.
Drilling down to the percentage of women income partners versus the number of women equity partners would likely paint a more accuratepicture of the proverbial path. Even more telling would be the average length of time women income partners stay in that position versus their male counterparts, or better yet, how many of the woman who attained the equity partner title were lateraled into the firm, and at what level (i.e., associate, income partner, equity at another firm??).
It is baffling to me that nearly every organization collecting data from firms and then reporting it is missing the most salient information. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) is perhaps the most egregious example. This institution provides the relevant data upon which so many other surveys and articles are written. It is also the data provided to all law students for recruiting purposes. Despite the good work that NALP in many other regards, the omission of this difference in status is shocking, considering that it holds itself out on its website as “the premier resource for information on legal employment and recruiting.” http://www.nalp.org/research
While I can understand that some difficulty lies in the inability to easily compare firms with two-tier partnerships to those with only one tier, the failure to report the numbers that really matter is tantamount to aiding and abetting law firms’ ability to hide within the loophole of general partnership numbers and appear to be one thing when the reality may show another. Just an observation….