The percentage of women attorneys working in the Pennsylvania offices of the state's 100 largest law firms has inched up slightly from 2011 to 2012, but the numbers are still lower than some expected.
It has long been noted that women make up smaller percentages of attorney headcount -- something even more apparent at the equity partner level -- than their male counterparts, despite years of statistics that show women graduating from law school in numbers equal to or just slightly lower than men. That phenomenon seems to have played out in Pennsylvania firms as well, according to numbers reported in The Legal Intelligencer affiliate PaLaw 2012.
Each year, PaLaw magazine breaks down the percentage of full-time female attorneys working in the Pennsylvania offices of the 100 largest law firms in the state. While the numbers only account for the Pennsylvania offices and some firms may have more women working in other locations around the globe, for many of the 100 largest firms, their only presence is in the Keystone State, providing a good snapshot of the number of women lawyers in Pennsylvania firms.
In looking at the 95 firms for which gender data was available, 28.5 percent of lawyers working in the Pennsylvania offices of the state's largest firms are women. That figure is up from 27.8 percent in 2011.
In looking at the percentage of lawyers in Pennsylvania offices who are female partners, the figure drops to nearly 9.9 percent. PaLaw does not differentiate between equity and nonequity partners for purposes of the percentage-of-women breakdown, so the number of female equity partners as a percentage of the overall lawyer headcount is almost certainly less than 9.9 percent.
Lisa M. Benzie of Angino & Rovner in Harrisburg is co-chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession. She said it is always good to see the percentage of female attorneys increase. She said that may have to do with the fact that nearly all law firms have some sort of women's initiative in place. Such initiatives have been around for decades in some firms, but Benzie said they are becoming more concrete and less abstract than they were in the past.
But while the overall percentage improved, Benzie said it's important to look at the breakdown of partners, associates, staff associates and of counsel. If most of the women are moving into the staff associate or nonequity partner role, the profession needs to look at whether that was by choice or whether the doors are not open to higher-level positions.
Benzie said 28.5 percent is certainly lower than what she would hope for the profession given women had long been graduating from law school at equal rates to men, but she said it is probably close to where the numbers have been for the last decade. The concern is that some expect the number of women graduating from law school to plateau or fall in the coming years, Benzie said.
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