In 2006, the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) issued the One Third By 2020 Challenge, calling for law firms to have one-third of their Equity Partners be women by 2020. We’re only one year away from that date, but women still only make up 19 percent of these positions. Leaders say they encounter two big hurdles to retaining and keeping women on the partnership track at their law firms: a demanding client and business development schedule, and the availability of other career opportunities for successful lawyers. Several leading female lawyers in the Pittsburgh area spoke with us to elaborate on these challenges and help dig into the roots of this problem.
Jennifer Minter, Chair of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Corporate section, says that while “technology gives women much more flexibility” during the work day, this only addresses part of the problem. “My hours are much more flexible, since I can now do client work before my children get up and after my children go to bed” she says. “But while I don’t need to be at my desk from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day to service my clients” this flexibility still hasn’t extended into the “realm of developing a book of business.” Some women don’t otherwise have the resources that allow them to undertake business development during off hours, and therefore often get stuck being “worker bees,” she explains, with a limited ability to move up the ladder. “I don’t think most law firms necessarily view that as their problem,” they consider it more “the individual’s problem to deal with.”
“Many women still bear the brunt of the caretaking responsibilities at home,” agrees Jessica Albert, a Partner in the Civil Litigation practice group at Leech Tishman. Meetings outside of work hours can pose a problem. This is often when “conversations about business and client development take place,” and when new clients may be pitched. “To rise in a firm,” she says, “women need to be in the room when decisions are being made. A lot of the time women are unable to be or are simply not invited and are ultimately left out.”
“I don’t think that there’s an appreciation” that a lot of women want to “get out there more,” says Minter. “It’s often very difficult for some women to attend events or meetings on evenings or weekends or to go out of town for events, especially for those who travel a good bit just to serve our clients that already takes time away from family and kids.”
She’s optimistic that as more women get into management positions, this will change. “While I think that most male Managing Partners and managers at law firms are aware of this issue,” it might not truly get fixed until there are more women in the room. More law firm leaders will need to realize and say ‘Hey, there’s a business case to fix this problem. This is something that is costing the firm money.”
While more and more law firms have adopted initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women in their senior ranks, NAWL says they are still underrepresented in Managing Partner and Equity Partner roles. Minter says that while her firm is doing a “great job of putting more women into positions of authority and realizes the value this generates,” but that “there is more that needs to be done, especially for more junior attorneys, to help them advance further.”
Clients are also pressuring law firms to solve this problem. “Many large companies require any law firm they work with to have a certain proportion of women at the senior level,” says Bev Block, Managing Partner of Block and Associates, “but with so many lawyers now retiring later, many of the big firms are still led by people who grew up in a different era – when talking about parenting responsibilities at the office just wasn’t done.”
At Flexable, we’re trying to change this with on-site care when and where these women need it most.
“It’s nice to know that Flexable is out there providing childcare so women can have the option to attend these after-work meetings or come into work on days when school is closed,” says Leech Tischman’s Albert. Block agrees: “Having events with childcare can really make a big splash toward changing the law firm culture.” As clients increasingly require women to be present at pitch meetings and in board rooms, Flexable helps law firms ensure that women (and men) can be both parents and successful rain making lawyers.