Will Large Firms Ever Crack the Code on Gender Equity?

November 27, 2023
Kelly McNees

A recent Financial Times piece highlighting the continued failure of large law firms to create sustainable paths to leadership for women has us shaking our heads. We have been following this issue for a long (long!) time, and it’s frustrating to hear up-and-coming lawyers complaining about the same grueling working conditions and outdated performance metrics that foreclosed opportunities for lawyers from their mothers’ generation. Yes, firms have made progress toward gender equity (several of the largest law firms have “increased the overall proportion of female partners from less than or about 20 per cent, to closer to 30 per cent, in the past five years,” according to data from Leopard Solutions). BUT:

  • Women partners are still not compensated equally. For instance, at Latham & Watkins, “female partners earned 24 per cent less than their male counterparts per hour, on average, in 2022”).
  • Continued reliance on the billable hour and origination credit to quantify the contributions of early-career attorneys simply takes a lot of women out of the game.
  • Many women in large firms have good reason to fear that getting pregnant and/or taking parental leave “will hinder, or potentially delay, the growth of their book of business” and close doors in their career.

As a woman featured in this piece, who ultimately left her law firm, said, alternative working models like regular hours would “drastically improve” working conditions for women with children, and allow them to remain in their jobs and advance. Small children don’t stay small for very long, after all. Not only is it discriminatory for firms to hire and invest in young lawyers only to chase away a portion of the women a few years later — it’s also an incredibly inefficient use of firm resources.