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There's no shortage of advocacy organizations that evaluate law firms for the flexibility of their work policies and success in advancing and retaining women, but a new effort is underway to objectively identify the firms with strong records of women in leadership positions.
The Women in Law Empowerment Forum promises to bestow its "Gold Standards Certification Award" to firms of 100 or more attorneys that have a substantial number of women equity partners, women in leadership roles and women bringing in top compensation.
Forum national chairwoman Elizabeth Ann "Betiayn" Tursi acknowledged that groups including the National Association of Women Lawyers and Working Mother magazine already survey law firms. Unlike those organizations, "we aren't surveying law firms on policies and practices," she said. "We're simply highlighting the firms that have met our standards, which emphasize leadership roles achieved by equity women partners. At the end of the day, I think it's going to be a short list. These are hard standards."
To be certified, firms must meet at least three of six criteria. Women must comprise at least:
• 20 percent of equity partners.
• 10 percent of firm chairs and managing partners.
• 20 percent of the firm's primary governance committee.
• 20 percent of the firm's compensation committee.
• 25 percent of the firm's practice group leaders or department heads.
• 10 percent of the top half of the highest-compensated partners.
Tursi anticipates that the compensation standard will be the toughest to meet.
"Compensation is a huge deal, and it's something firms treat as though it's top-secret," she said. "Some of the firms balked at this standard when they were being developed, but I don't think it's out of whack."
For instance, at least five of the law firms with members on the forum's advisory board meet the certification standards, Tursi said.
She stipulated that women occupying leadership positions in what is often seen as "soft departments," including the recruiting, diversity and human resources committees, will not count toward meeting the certification standards.
The forum will begin sending out law firm surveys in early April. They must be completed by June. The forum plans to complete the certifications by mid-summer. Firms that don't receive certification may reapply once they meet the criteria, Tursi said. Firms that gain certification will have to fill out surveys annually to retain the designation.
"My hope is that this will help firms turn the corner," Tursi said. "When we expose firms that have achieved these standards, I think others will see that and realize that they need to do a better job."