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Finally, is there a faint whiff of gender parity in the legal profession?

Before you get too excited, let me warn you I’m not talking about women surpassing the 18 percent mark in equity partners (yes, women are still in that 15 to 17 percent equity ghetto). Nor am I talking about women taking over the management committee.

No, I’m talking about something more modest—but still notable. In the lateral partner market, women seem to be holding their own. According to Major Lindsey & Africa’s newly released lateral partner satisfaction survey, women’s satisfaction levels were similar to their male counterparts—a departure from MLA’s 2006 survey in which female lateral partners expressed far less satisfaction. “Men and women approach their moves similarly, have similar rates about satisfaction, use recruiters at same percentages,” says Jeffrey Lowe, an MLA partner, about this year’s report.

Of course, men still dominate the lateral partner pool, representing about 80 percent of laterals and roughly reflecting the 80/20 gender composition of partners (equity and nonequity) at major firms. Though female partners are still in the minority, the encouraging news is that they are at least jumping into the lateral game—and not just staying put if they’re unhappy.

So exactly how much are women and men aligned in their lateral experience? Well, the gender gap among lateral partners is not that wide, though you can debate whether the differences are truly negligible:

- Both sexes named “firm culture” as the number one reason to change firms. In fact, both sexes gave almost identical scores to the various reasons for leaving.

- Both sexes were satisfied about client origination at the new firm. Male and female laterals both saw an increase in origination, with women having a slight edge (64.8 percent of women report increase versus 62.4 percent for men).

- Men were more satisfied overall with their new firm: 54.2 percent of men were “very satisfied” with their current firm versus 48.8 percent women.

- Men were also happier with compensation: 39.5 percent of men were “very satisfied” with their compensation at their new firm versus 34.4 percent women. Among those “not very satisfied,” 16.3 percent were women versus only 10.7 percent of men. (The survey didn’t reveal actual compensation totals.)

- Men were more likely to give the firm high marks for being candid: 57.6 percent of men believed their firm was “very candid” about the job versus 49.3 percent of women.

- Few women reviewed the firm’s financial documents before accepting the job. Overall, only 36.6 of all laterals even bothered to look at firm’s financials, but the percentage was even worse for women: Only 28.4 percent of women did versus 38.4 percent of men.

- Female partners were more likely to feel left out of the new firm. 12.6 percent of women felt the firm was “less effective” in integrating them into the partnership versus 6.7 percent of men.

The last two points are particularly troubling—particularly because the MLA survey finds that laterals who did more due diligence ended up being more satisfied. So does that mean that women are less satisfied with their new firm because they failed to do enough financial investigation in the first place?

Jon Lindsey of MLA wouldn’t go that far. “I don’t think there’s a direct correlation with women not looking at the financials and not being as happy,” says Lindsey. “I think there are still bigger problems.”

E-mail: vchen@alm.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist