Haseena Enu of Fragomen. (Courtesy photo)
When Haseena Enu joined Fragomen, Del Rey, Bern-sen & Loewy over 20 years ago, women—it seemed—were everywhere.
“There were women on the executive committee, there were plenty of women partners in the office where I started working, [and] there were women running offices,” Enu said. “And, as a woman walking into the firm as a young associate, you don’t see limits.”
For the sixth year in a row, the New York-based immigration boutique firm holds the top spot on The National Law Journal’s Women in Law Scorecard, which ranks the nation’s largest law firms according to their percentages of women attorneys. In 2016, women made up 62 percent of the firm’s 539 lawyers. Women accounted for nearly half (46.5 percent) of the partners and fully two-thirds (66.3 percent) of associates at the firm.
This year’s rankings were determined based on survey responses from 261 of the nation’s 350 largest law firms by head count in the NLJ’s annual report. The Women in Law rankings are calculated by adding each firm’s percentage of women attorneys with its percentage of women partners — a formula that gives weight to women in partnership positions.
Among the 261 responding firms, women comprised 35.1 percent of all attorneys in 2016. Among the partnership ranks, women made up 21.8 percent of the 55,777 total partners reported. And women also comprised slightly over 46 percent of associates.
In only 21 respondent firms did female attorneys comprise more than 40 percent of the total attorneys, while women made up less than 30 percent of lawyers at 78 firms.
These numbers on par with national trends. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, women make up 35.7 percent of attorneys nationwide.
Fragomen has topped the NLJ’s Women in Law Scorecard since its inception in 2011 and Enu believes that this could be related to the firm’s focus on immigration law.
“People don’t come to the firm unless they have an interest in immigration and I think this field really attracts a diverse group of people in terms of men and women and different ethnicities,” Enu said. “I think the practice area certainly promotes diversity.”
A recent study by ALM Intelligence (ALI) titled “Where Do We Go From Here? Big Law’s Struggle With Recruiting and Retaining Female Talent” found that women among Am Law 200 firms were concentrated in niche practice groups, particularly in immigration, family law, education, health care and labor and employment. Women accounted for 60 percent of immigration practices and made up 44 percent of labor and employment practices, the study found.
After Fragomen at No. 1, three of the next four firms that round out the top five on the Women in Law Scorecard focus on labor and employment law: Ford & Harrison at No. 3, Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete at No. 4 and Littler Mendelson at No. 5.
As for other Am Law 100 firms, Jackson Lewis came in at No. 10, reporting that 41.8 percent of its attorneys were women. Greenville, South Carolina-based Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart made the list at No. 13 and Los Angeles-based Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith came in No. 15, followed by Washington, D.C.-based Hogan Lovells at No. 16. Baker McKenzie, an addition to this year’s rankings, rounded out the scorecard’s top 25 firms at No. 24; it reported that 42.2 percent of the firm’s 4,607 attorneys were women.
“We are fortunate that the world of labor and employment law is an area of practice that does appeal to women [and] we may have an easier time recruiting than some areas of law such as intellectual property and other areas,” said Jeremy Roth, co-president and managing director of Littler Mendelson.
The San Francisco-based firm reported that 48 percent of its 989 attorneys were women, and just over a third — 33.9 percent — of its partners are women.
Firms with a focus on IP practices nabbed the bottom two spots in the Women in Law ranking as in years past. Brinks Gilson & Lione came in at No. 260 followed by Salt Lake City-based Kirton McConkie at No. 261.
“We’re looking for attorneys that either have degrees from engineering programs or a science degree and the percentage of those graduates that are women is lower so we have a lower pool to start with,” said Jim Sobieraj, president of Brinks Gilson.
Despite this low pool, Sobieraj said that the firm is working to increase the number of women among its ranks. Five of the firm’s new hires last year were women and, in its incoming class in the fall, six out of seven of its new associates are women.
Lee Wright, president at Kirton McConkie, said in an emailed statement the IP firm is also making efforts to increase the number of women at the firm through recruitment efforts paired with work-life policies that ensure that interests and responsibilities outside the office don’t impede partnership progression.
“We strive to provide a flexible, supportive, and rewarding work environment that encourages our female lawyers to remain with the firm,” Wright said.
Roth said that his firm works to maximize the impact of programs implemented to recruit and promote female attorneys.
Last year, the firm updated its family leave policies to include 16 weeks of paid level for the primary caregiver and up to four weeks for the secondary caregiver, with the possibility of a reduction of hours upon returning to the firm for up to six months, said Thomas Bender, co-president of Littler.
The firm also implemented a mentorship program that pairs female and minority senior associates with its top partners, and with general counsel at several client companies in order to develop business skills and connections that will help push them into the partnership ranks.
“We really focus on retaining the lawyers that we already have and developing them into positions of leadership at the firm, and once you do that, the recruiting part gets easier because people want to work here,” Bender said.
According to Debbie Epstein Henry, a Philadelphia-based independent legal consultant who specializes in women’s issues in the legal profession, nearly 75 percent of law firm lawyers who avail themselves of work-life programs are women.
“Women are still availing themselves to work-life options more than men and so in turn it’s not surprising that they would turn to practice areas that they think are more consistent with work-life aspirations,” Henry said.
However, she added that there is a disproportionate focus placed on work-life policies — such as those at Littler and other firms in the NLJ survey — as being the key to increasing the number of women in the legal profession. Rather, she said, firms should focus on ensuring that their compensation systems equally reward women for their work; that their business development and attribution systems are not disproportionately focused on origination credit to the detriment of women at the firm; and that women are groomed for leadership roles, Henry said.
“The challenge is ensuring that the law firm model is actually hospitable for everyone to thrive, and right now the existing infrastructure and how law firms work is an old model that’s broken and that’s not supporting everybody to thrive,” Henry said.