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Everywhere you turn these days, even if you aren’t a golf fan, it’s Annika, Annika, Annika. Annika Sorenstam, the most famous golfer in the world not named Tiger, is scheduled to tee-off in the Colonial in May, the first woman since 1945 to play in a PGA Tour event. Whether she finishes in the top 20 (which even she doubts) is irrelevant. Sorenstam has made it abundantly clear that she’s not out to prove anything. She wants nothing more than the challenge of playing the best in the game, men or women. That seems to be the norm these days in women’s sports. Thanks to Title IX, the 1972 law that forbids gender discrimination at schools receiving federal funds, women’s sports has catapulted an entire generation of girls into athletic careers unheard of 30 years ago. Even those who don’t go on to get endorsements from Nike or do guest spots on “The Simpsons” have benefited from being allowed to play sports their mothers couldn’t. A recent New York Times article gave a rundown of some of the recent, extraordinary firsts by women athletes: � Katie Hnida, a place-kicker for the University of New Mexico, became the first woman to participate in a Division I-A football game when she attempted an extra point in the Las Vegas Bowl last December. � Michelle Wie, an eighth-grader from Honolulu, shot from the back tees and finished in a tie for 47th in a field of 96 men at the Hawaii Pearl Open as she sought to qualify for a stop on the PGA Tour. � On the coaching level, Teresa Phillips of Tennessee State University became the first woman to coach a major college men’s basketball team. � Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada, considered the world’s top female hockey player, in February became the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. JUST A FEW Just as women have come a long way in sports, the same can be said of the advancement of women in the legal profession. After all, when I became a lawyer in 1985, women couldn’t even wear pants to the office. More than a decade before that, a number of women law students had to sue just for the right to be interviewed at Texas’ leading firms. Now, not only are we being interviewed while wearing pants, but we’re also being hired in greater numbers at the most prestigious firms in the world. Just a few years ago, Christine Lagarde made news when she became chairwoman of the executive committee at Baker & McKenzie, the largest firm to be headed by a woman. Sadly, though, there have been few Lagardes (who, it should be noted, came up through, and resides in, that firm’s Paris office). In Texas, women comprise 28 percent of the lawyers and 15 percent of the partners at 19 of the state’s biggest firms, according to Texas Lawyer‘s most recent survey on the subject. That percentage has remained largely unchanged over the past several years. This, at a time when women make up 48 percent of the state’s law students, another statistic that has held steady for several years. If you were to ask most women who left big firms why they decided to leave such lucrative careers, most will point to the difficulty of maintaining a home life while billing upwards of 2,200 hours a year. The discrepancy between the growing success of women in sports and the almost glacial progress of women in the legal profession may offer some lessons. Most obviously, there is no Title IX equivalent in the firm world. For better or worse, firms have been and always will be driven by economics. While the laissez faire approach has done wonders for capitalism, it has done little to effect social change. Firms, by and large, remain financially healthy institutions. So they have little reason to embark on a crusade to elevate the status of women. Nevertheless, attrition, such as that caused by women who leave the profession, is costly. It’s much more expensive to find, hire and train a new lawyer than it is to keep an existing one on board. Yet, the punishing hours and pressure to bill — to which so many women attribute their decision to leave the large-firm environment — leave little room for nonworkaholics and those with families. One possibility for change, oddly enough, may come from our clients. As women move higher in corporate America — which has been more accepting of flex-time, job-sharing, on-site childcare and all the other elements that make for a family-friendly workplace — those corporations are putting pressure on their outside counsel to diversify their ranks. That pressure may be subtle or it may be overt. But, just as consistent pressure from tiny drops of water created the Grand Canyon, so may the pressure from our clients bring about change at big firms. Until then, women have a choice: They can take the profession as-is and do their best to carve their own career tracks (regardless of how long it takes to make partner, if they so desire), or they can become clients — and commence dripping. Kathleen J. Wu is a partner in Andrews & Kurth in Dallas. “On the Level” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.

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