Is it easier for female lawyers to crack the glass ceiling in-house? Figures compiled by our sibling publication Corporate Counsel suggest that’s the case, showing increasing numbers of women in the top legal job at Fortune 500 companies. In 2004 the Minority Corporate Counsel Corporation counted 75 women general counsel at Fortune 500 corporations. Five years later, that number grew to 86, then reached 106 in 2014, according to Corporate Counsel figures. (Corporate Counsel counts only companies where the top legal officer is a woman, whether her title is general counsel or chief legal officer.) Today women are leading the legal departments at 21 percent of Fortune 500 companies, compared with 17 percent in 2009 and 15 percent a decade ago.
At large law firms, by contrast, the percentage of equity women partners is 17 percent. A 2012 study by The American Lawyer found that only 10 percent of Am Law 100 firms had a female managing partner or chair.
The outlook for women in-house isn’t all rosy. The percentage of women GCs in the Fortune 501 to 1000 tier is just 17 percent. And this year, for the first time, the number of female chief legal officers in the Fortune 500 dipped slightly from the previous year, from 109 to 106.