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Although women account for nearly half of the law school enrollment nationwide, they are less satisfied than men with their advancement in the legal profession, according to a study released Tuesday by Catalyst, a nonprofit group that promotes women in careers. While enrollment of women in top-tier law schools has steadily increased from 40 percent in 1985 to almost 50 percent in 2000, last year women represented only 15.6 percent of law firm partners nationwide, and 13.7 percent of the general counsels of Fortune 500 companies. Women identified lack of mentoring opportunities and exclusion from informal networks as barriers to their advancement. “If you think the door is closed, at some point you stop banging,” said Anna Glick, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and a member of the firm’s management committee. The Catalyst study on women in the legal profession looked at more than 1,400 law school graduates nationwide — 64 percent women and 36 percent men — in law firms, corporate legal departments, government, education and the nonprofit sector. The participating schools were Columbia Law School, Harvard Law School, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan Law School and Yale Law School. Barriers to advancement lead women to plan on leaving their current employer three years before their male colleagues, while younger women and women of color intend to leave even sooner, the study found. “Women are the emerging majority in the legal profession,” said Martha W. Barnett, president of the American Bar Association. “The law firms and corporate legal departments that want to be successful in the future need to focus on recruitment, retention and advancement of women,” she added. Both female and male law graduates agree on strategies for advancement, such as demonstrating strong communication skills, developing a style with which their managers are comfortable and taking initiative. Yet there is a profound perception gap. More than two-thirds of women and nearly half of men agreed that the most significant barrier that women face is commitment to family responsibilities. However, men do not recognize the other barriers for their female colleagues. “These women are saying they want high-profile assignments, advancement opportunities and flexibility to get the job done on their own terms,” said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. “And last, but not least, they want a mentor who can help them figure it all out.” Women of color are least satisfied, according to the study. They anticipate leaving their employer a full four years earlier than men and one year earlier than their white female colleagues. Meanwhile, less than one-third of women of color are satisfied with advancement opportunities and availability of mentors, which is significantly lower than the response for white women, which was 41 percent. In addition, 46 percent of women of color are satisfied with their current employer generally, versus 62 percent of white women. “Firms as a whole have to take a hard look at themselves and have to make the environment comfortable for everybody,” said Susan J. Kohlmann, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop and the chair of the Committee on Women and the Law at The Association of the Bar of the City of New York. IN-HOUSE ROUTE The report also found that although women in search of better work and family balance leave law firms for corporate legal departments, they are not finding what they are looking for. For instance, 66 percent of women in corporate legal departments report difficulty balancing work and personal life, compared with 71 percent of women in law firms. But most striking is the fact that women who work as in-house counsel are more concerned about the negative career impact of flexible work arrangements than law firm women. Only 9 percent of women in corporations, as opposed to 22 percent of women in law firms, said they can use flexible work arrangements without affecting their advancement. In addition, women working as in-house counsel are also less satisfied with advancement opportunities than women in law firms, and the gender gap on this issue is most pronounced in corporations. Since most of the women interviewed remained in the workforce and did not leave to stay home full time, firms need to find a way to retain these employees, said Glick of Cadwalader. “It is too expensive to let 50 percent of the people” who come into firms become dissatisfied and leave, she said.

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