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The bad news keeps coming about women at large law firms. On the heels of a survey from the National Association of Law Placement that found the percentage of women attorneys at U.S. firms dipped slightly this year, the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) has released a report corroborating a drop in the percentage of women attorneys entering the 200 largest firms. It was the first time that has happened since the association launched its annual survey in 2006. The report also concluded that women face diminished opportunities to hold leadership positions at large firms. “Women lawyers already leave big-firm practice at a greater pace than their male counterparts, and this narrowing of the pipeline at the entry level, however slight, only further decreases the pool of women available for promotion,” said NAWL President Heather Giordanella. “We hope that this decrease does not signal the beginning of a downward trend for women in the profession.” This year, women constituted 47 percent of first and second-year associates, compared to 48 percent last year. Although the decline was small, it may suggest that the pipeline of women entering large law firms was shrinking, the report said. Figures from the American Bar Association show that the percentage of women entering law school has peaked, which also may contribute to a future decline in the number of women entering large law firms. Women already leave large law firms at a faster pace than do their male counterparts, which further diminishes the pool of women in line for partnership, the association said. Although underrepresented in this year’s entering associate class, women were overrepresented in nonequity positions including staff attorney and counsel. Women represented a “dismally low” 15 percent of equity partners, according to the report, but comprised 55 percent of staff attorneys. Similarly, women made up 34 percent of the of-counsel ranks. The data also showed that women partners were less likely to receive credit for developing business, or being “rainmakers.” “Whatever the source of the problem, it is clear that the lack of credit for substantial business hampers women lawyers in maximizing compensation, advancing into firm leadership, or negotiating an advantageous move,” the report said. Indeed, women were under-represented in law firm leadership positions, with just 5 percent of firms having a woman as their top manager. That figure has remained unchanged since 2006, and was unlikely to increase until law firms boost their ranks of female equity partners, the report said. The increasing complexity of law firm structure also may be hindering the advancement of women, the report continued. The increase in non-partnership attorney ranks and the movement away from lockstep associate compensation may hurt the prospects of women attorneys, it said. And the introduction of partnership tiers has meant that more women end up in nonequity positions. A pay gap persisted between women and men at large firms, the report found. That gap was relatively small among associates, but increased at the higher ranks. For instance, women of counsel earned approximately 92 percent of what their male counterparts earned. Nonequity female attorneys earned 95 of what their male counterparts did, while that figure was 86 percent for female equity partners — a discrepancy of $70,000 at the typical firm. Despite the problems, the vast majority of the firms responding to the NAWL survey — 95% — said they sponsored initiatives aimed at helping women overcome career barriers. Contact Karen Sloan at [email protected].

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