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A standing-room crowd of more than 300 lawyers, all but a handful women, showed up earlier this month for a spirited half-day symposium at the New York City Bar Association on a question that seems not to go away: When will the legal profession see sex equality throughout its ranks?

In 1992, the city bar’s Committee on Women in the Profession published a lengthy statistical report entitled “Glass Ceilings and Open Doors,” which found:

“[S]tereotyping, traditional attitudes and behavior toward women, often focused around women’s roles as mothers, discourage … full participation and commitment, and accommodations to their family obligations often places them off-track.”

Now with U.S. law school graduating classes about 52 percent female, up from the 40 percentile in the late 1980s, according to figures from the National Association for Law Placement, findings in a freshly published white paper by the same city bar committee remain dismal:

“While the current percentages of men and women in law firms and corporate legal departments are nearly equivalent at the entry level, a gap develops and expands at each point along the career path. This trend results in partner and general counsel ranks continuing to be predominantly composed of men. For example, women comprise only 17 percent of partners in law firms across the country. The problem is especially pronounced among women of color.

“[T]he legal profession fared especially poorly when compared to other fields, such as the accounting industry …”

The women assembled Feb. 7 in the city bar’s ornate Great Hall, where only one of the 19 oil portraits gracing the high walls is female — a painting of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a gilt frame far smaller than the men’s. Attendees heard panel speakers react to the new 43-page white paper “Best Practices for the Hiring, Training, Retention and Advancement of Women Attorneys.”

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