Business Strategy

4 Things Fueling Growth of Female Partners in Law Firms

women in big law

When it comes to making partner at a law firm, let’s get real.

It’s all about clients and hours—in other words, money. That’s one reason why we ask firms competing for our Best Law Firms for Women initiative to report on how many of their top ten rainmakers (equity partners who generate the most gross revenue) are women.

This year’s initiative uncovered a huge jump in that very important statistic: Among the fifty 2016 winning firms, one-fifth say three or more of their top 10 rainmakers are women—double the percentage cited in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of firms reporting no women among their top ten generators fell to 19 percent in 2016, down from 29 percent in 2014.

As any woman—or human resources, talent or diversity executive—knows, moving the needle on women’s advancement is much more tortoise than hare. (To wit, since we launched the Best Law Firms for Women initiative in 2007 with Flex-Time Lawyers, representation of women among equity partners at winning firms has inched up to 20 percent from 16 percent.) That makes this recent jump in female rainmakers all the more impressive.

What is fueling this growth? According to our Best Law Firms, four factors seem to have the most impact:

  1. Including More Women in Decision Making.

An area where we see slow but steady growth among the Best Law Firms is the representation of women on key leadership committees, including the executive committee (25 percent in 2016 vs. 21 percent in 2012), compensation (25 percent vs. 21percent) and equity partner promotion (27 percent vs. 22 percent). Having women in the room when the questions of who to advance and compensate are answered is certainly a step in the right direction.

Also read: 3 Ways to Keep Women from Quitting Big Law

  1. Encouraging Men and Women to Use Flexible Work.

As with other industries, flexibility has a role to play in supporting lawyers of both genders as they juggle work and life. And yet, among lawyers overall, usage still remains low. For example, while all Best Law Firms offer flextime and reduced hours, only 22 percent and 9 percent of lawyers use them, respectively. (Still, that’s higher than the national lawyer average of 6 percent.)

Also read: How to Get a Job With Flexible Work Arrangements

  1. Helping Women Make Connections.

Every Best Law Firm offers internal networking groups for female lawyers and women’s affinity groups, but also important is the fact that each organizes events to connect women to clients as well. All Best Law Firms also offer women-focused business development education, while nearly all offer women-specific mentoring and leadership training.

  1. Sponsoring Women.

Sponsorship is like mentoring on steroids. For many Best Law Firms, a sponsor or sponsorship committee is held accountable for developing up-and-coming lawyers. Today, 78 percent of winning firms offer sponsorship, up from 56 percent in 2013. Even more impressive, the average percentage of all sponsees who are women has jumped to 51 percent this year, from only 15 percent in 2013, meaning they are more likely to be considered for the stretch assignments, training, and connections that lead to generating new business that law firms need to grow.

The Best Law Firms will be the first to tell you that there’s no one method for turning female law partners into big revenue generators. Instead, the path to change is a complex one, requiring a concerted effort on all fronts to make it possible not only for women to thrive, but to bring their savviness to bear for their firms. That said, these firms are opting to lead the way on allowing women to lead.

Also read: Sponsoring for Success: How Companies Invest in Their Employees Through EMBAs

For more on what the Best Law Firms are doing to serve female lawyers, read here.

About the Author

Jennifer Owens is editor of Spring.St, the place for smart women. Formerly, she was editorial director of Working Mother magazine & founding director of the Working Mother Research Institute, home to the Working Mother 100 Best Companies and Best Companies for Multicultural Women, among other initiatives.