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When it comes to running the in-house legal departments of America’s largest businesses, it’s still a man’s world. Women make up a mere 13 percent of the general counsel at Fortune 500 companies, according to a survey by Recorder -affiliate Corporate Counsel magazine. While the results highlight a continuing disparity in corporate legal departments — after all, women have accounted for close to 40 percent of the nation’s graduating law school classes for two decades — there are some bright spots, especially in the Bay Area, which boasted one of the survey’s largest concentration of women GCs. The Bay Area is home to a half-dozen Fortune 500 women GCs at companies including Apple Computer Inc., The Charles Schwab Corp. and The Gap Inc. The highest-ranking Fortune 500 company with a female GC is Palo Alto’s Hewlett-Packard Co. The computer manufacturer, which booked $56.5 billion in revenue last year and is No. 14 on the Fortune 500 list, has had a woman in its top legal spot since 1999 when Ann Baskins became general counsel. A UCLA School of Law graduate, Baskins has spent nearly her entire career at HP, rising through the ranks from her first job as an attorney at the company. With last year’s merger of HP and Compaq, Baskins now commands a 300-attorney legal department — among the largest of her female peers in the Fortune 500. While women GCs are underrepresented in the Fortune 500, Baskins says she hardly feels like she sticks out. “I don’t detect any element of surprise when I meet either other GCs or lawyers in a professional context,” Baskins says. “I don’t feel like a novelty.” And, Baskins says, she’s encouraged by the diverse group of attorneys that she sees within the company and on the job market. Mary Ellen Richey, who has served as the GC of Providian Financial Corp. for nine years, says she hasn’t witnessed a lot of gender discrimination in the legal profession in her experience. But she acknowledges that women are in the minority at industry events she attends. “I don’t know what confluence of factors causes it, but I find it interesting and in some ways disappointing that there’s fewer of my peers than I would have thought,” says Richey. Meanwhile, local programs like the Bar Association of San Francisco’s No Glass Ceilings Task Force are laying the groundwork to ensure that more women attain the rank of general counsel in the near future. Some of the Bay Area’s biggest businesses, including ChevronTexaco Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Visa International have signed on to the task force, committing to have women comprise at least 25 percent of their legal departments’ experienced attorney ranks (those lawyers with 10 years of experience or more) by 2004. They have also committed to having at least one female in senior management by 2005. Nationwide, the 13 percent of women GCs in this year’s Fortune 500 is the same as the year before (though the actual number of female GCs in the Fortune 500 dipped to 65 from 67 in 2002). The number represents a marked improvement from 1999, when only 9.6 percent of the GCs in the Fortune 500 were women, according to Catalyst Inc., a New York-based research organization. The stagnant economy undoubtedly weighed down this year’s numbers. The Chapter 11 filings of Kmart Corp. and U.S. Airways Group Inc. led, in part, to the departures of Janet Kelley and Michelle Bryan, two prominent female GCs. AMR Corp.’s Anne McNamara retired in the midst of that carrier’s troubles. And in lackluster economic climates there’s typically not a lot of job-hopping. So the past year saw few opportunities for women to leap into vacated, high-profile roles. California, the nation’s most populous state, sat at the top of this year’s list with eight Fortune 500 companies boasting women GCs. Illinois and Texas each counted seven companies with women GCs. In New York, women headed up the legal departments of six Fortune 500 companies, including American Express Co., Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and The Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. Five of those companies were based in New York City — the survey’s biggest concentration in a single city. Houston counted four Fortune 500 female GCs, at Continental Airlines Inc., Lyondell Chemical Co., Dynegy Inc. and El Paso Corp. While Chicago only counted two Fortune 500 companies with women GCs, there were another five such companies within 35 miles of the Windy City, making the greater Chicago area one of the nation’s standouts. Related chart: California’s Top Women GCs Staff Reporter Ashby Jones ofCorporate Counsel contributed to this story..

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