Highlights From the Glass Ceiling Report by Law 360

The Law 360 2020 Glass Ceiling Report is out, and we have good news and bad news.

In the spirit of 2020, let’s get the bad news out of the way first: law firms have made very little progress on removing barriers to advancement for women in the profession. The numbers have barely changed.

The good news is that the reporters at Law 360 have put together a truly stellar package of coverage that dives deep into why firms continue struggling to achieve equity, and what they need to do about it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Data — and new initiatives designed in response to that data — are the future of diversity and inclusion in law firms, and our only real hope for making significant change. Firms must find ways to understand the way systems for evaluation and promotion currently operate before they can form effective plans for changing them. Data analyst Evan Parker suggest two metrics firms could track that would provide valuable information on bias in access to opportunity.  
  • Diversity — the presence of different kinds of people with multiple backgrounds and perspectives — cannot survive without an emphasis on inclusion — the creation of a workplace culture that allows people to bring their whole selves to work. Most firms are far from inclusive places. For instance, Black lawyers who prefer to wear natural hairstyles report experiencing discrimination because of their hair. Whether that’s suffering through inappropriate and intrusive comments and assumptions, or losing out on high-profile case work because they don’t “project the right image,” hair discrimination is race discrimination, and it impacts careers. Watch this excellent videoto learn what firms can do about it.
  • One key to getting women trial attorneys more opportunities in court is normalizing the existence of multiple courtroom styles or “personas” that are equally effective in securing good results for clients. You don’t have to be Perry Mason to persuade a jury, and good mentor won’t ask you to try.
  • Mentorship is a central aspect of the practice of law, and yet most senior partners, who are overwhelmingly white men, tend to choose mentees who remind them of themselves. This is how power and access remain concentrated in the hands of white men when the next generation of attorneys are elevated to partner. But client (and judicial bench) demand for more diversity means senior partners have got to shake up their strategy. Improving mentorship means tackling the related issue of how origination credit hobbles women’s advancement, but, as Culhane Meadows founding partner James Meadows writes, “I can say with confidence that I make far more money through my mentorship of women than I lose through giving up credit.”