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For the scant few women who run some of the nation’s biggest law firms, it’s lonely at the top. And it seems to be getting lonelier. A small percentage of women are at the pinnacle of law firms across the country, and some recent departures do not bode well for the advancement of women in the profession. A number of factors apparently are contributing to the low showing of women leaders, including a disinclination to take on the managerial demands of running a multipartner shop. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Jerry Clements, the woman in charge of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell. As managing partner of the 700-attorney law firm, Clements said the shortage of women in leadership positions is primarily due to a “timing issue.” When she graduated from Baylor University School of Law in 1981, big law firms were just beginning to hire women, she said. While more women since then have entered the profession, the supply of women attorneys with enough experience to lead law firms is small, she said. Even so, the job as head of a law firm isn’t necessarily what women � or men for that matter � want, she said. “People say that to do this job for more than five years is about as much as anyone can stand,” she said, adding that she likes the challenges of the position. As with many leaders of large law firms, Clements has turned over most of her practice and now devotes the vast majority of her time to management duties. “I do miss it,” she said of her practice. The pool of lawyers who want to run a law firm is relatively small, but the pool of women lawyers eager to take on the tasks is even smaller, said Valerie Ford Jacob, co-managing partner of 684-attorney Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in New York. Extensive travel to far-flung offices, the constant demands of business development and, in some cases, the need to maintain a practice with key clients while dealing with managerial issues can make the job unappealing to many lawyers, Jacob said. Because so few women are included in the upper ranks of law firm management, finding a match between qualifications and a desire to do the job is uncommon, she said. Just 8% of law firm leaders are women, according to a report released in November by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL). The survey was sent to law firms on the AmLaw 200, an annual ranking of law firms based on revenue complied by The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal. A total of 112 law firms responded. The percentage of women leading law firms based on NAWL’s 2007 survey is higher than the results in 2006, when 5% of law firm leaders were women. But recent departures of some women from top posts have created concern about sustaining the progress that women have made. “It does seem that we’re slipping,” said Paula Hinton, a litigation partner at Houston-based Vinson & Elkins. “Women leaders who were surfacing are dropping. I don’t understand the reason for that.” Last year, Debora de Hoyos stepped down as managing partner at Chicago’s Mayer Brown, a post she had held since 1991. Earlier this year, Martha Barnett, the first female partner at Holland & Knight, lost a bid to retain her position as chairman of the firm’s board, a post she had held since 2003. Also this year, Karen Glover, former managing partner of Preston Gates & Ellis, became global integration partner after her firm merged with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham. Further, in 2006, Mary Cranston left her position as chairwoman of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. She currently is a senior partner with the firm. Marina Park, former managing partner of Pillsbury Winthrop, departed after Cranston’s job change. A major reason that women lag so far behind in top leadership roles at law firms is because, in general, those are not jobs they want, said Joel Henning, a consultant with Hildebrandt International. Very few chairs and managing partners are true innovators, Henning said. Instead, they merely perform a housekeeping function within law firms � something women are not keen to do. “The best women lawyers get satisfaction out of their practices, and they see little attraction in becoming housekeeping-type law firm leaders,” Henning said. “Many women would rather do their housekeeping chores somewhere else, not in their law firms.” Hinton disagreed, adding that she would embrace the chance to lead a big law firm. She pointed to a lack of opportunity as the reason for the shortage of women leaders. “The job of a law firm leader has changed,” she said. “Their role is much more in the marketing and strategic planning arena, not in the housekeeping arena.” Turnover is inevitable, but what concerns some is that few women have emerged as leaders of high-profile firms to replace those who departed. One exception is Jenner & Block’s newly appointed managing partner, Susan Levy. And one woman who has stayed put in her leadership role is Candace Beinecke, chairwoman of Hughes Hubbard & Reed. “Does that make me dumb or just a survivor?” said Beinecke, who has led the 343-attorney New York firm since 1999. Moving women into leadership positions at law firms is a process that is “a long time coming,” she said. Law firms that have a history of hiring and promoting women to positions that lead to top jobs are the ones that end up with effective and satisfied women leaders, she said. But the numbers aren’t favorable for women in that regard, either. Among the law firms in the NAWL survey, 15% reported that they had no women on their highest governing committees. Some 25% of the law firms reported that women make up 10% or less of their governing committees. Only 10% of firms reported that women total 25% or more of their highest governing committees. “You don’t appoint someone to head a firm unless they’ve served in other leadership positions,” said Linda Addison, one of three women on Fulbright’s six-person management committee. “Unless you put women in roles to demonstrate their leadership ability, the partners will not elect them to lead the firm,” she said.

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