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While 45 percent of associates at large law firms are women, just 16 percent of equity partners are women, according to a survey on the retention and promotion of female attorneys released Wednesday by the National Association of Women Lawyers. The survey, NAWL’s first on the issue, was completed by 103 of the 200 largest firms in the country and asked questions about partner status, governance roles and compensation. The results showed that about 16 percent of law firm governance committees are made up of women attorneys and 5 percent of managing partners are female. In interpreting the data, NAWL said that women have comprised 50 percent of law school students for more than 15 years. “In an era when partnerships are made within seven to 10 years of law school graduation, many in the legal profession had expected that, by now, there would be gender parity at all but the most senior levels of law firm partnerships,” according to the survey. “At the same time, a lack of national data has prevented both a clear picture of and benchmarks for how women progress in law firm hierarchies.” Cathy Fleming, a partner with Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge in New York and the president of NAWL, was cautious about interpreting the data because this was the first survey of its kind. She said the organization would continue to conduct the survey annually and would be able to better assess the results next year. While the survey only looked at law firms, Fleming said the problem affects corporate law departments as well. She said she hopes to see improvements from both groups in the coming years. One statistic that left Fleming hopeful was that the percentage of women equity partners seems to increase when looking at younger generations. According to the results, when looking at the most junior equity partners, 24 percent are women. Although Fleming was hesitant to offer a reason for the disparity between the number of female associates and female equity partners, she said there is a perception that women leave law firms voluntarily. Anecdotally, however, she said women often leave because of a lack of opportunities. Gina Passarella is a reporter with The Legal Intelligencer, a Recorder affiliate based in Philadelphia.

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