Yale Law School. Yale Law School. (Courtesy photo)

A Yale Law School group has identified its top 10 law firms for gender equity and family friendliness, finding plenty of room for improvement in Big Law.

Yale Law Women, a group dedicated to the advancement of women at the university and in the profession, surveyed more than 50 Big Law firms, examining their policies around family leave and gender equality. These responses were then weighted against responses from male and female Yale alumni currently working at those firms.

Last year was the first time the report broke out the two lists to include a “female-friendly” category. This year—the group’s 14th year releasing the roster—the category was changed to gender equality to capture the experiences of both female and gender nonconforming individuals, said Elizabeth Levin, a second-year law student at Yale and co-chairwoman of the survey committee. 

“It’s not just the experiences of female attorneys that impact whether a firm is gender equitable, but the experiences of nonconforming women,” Levin said.

The Yale Law Women report comes as a series of gender bias lawsuits and proposed class actions against major law firms has shined a light on claims that firms discriminate against women and mothers. At least one of the firms fighting those claims, Morrison & Foerster, made the Yale gender equality top 10 this year.

To calculate gender equity among the firms, the Yale Law Women report looked at the representation of women within a firm’s structure and leadership, as well as promotions and evidence of commitment to equitable training and mentorship.

Yale Law Women’s top 10 firms for gender equality in 2019, listed in alphabetical order, are: Bryan Cave (now Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner); Fish & Richardson; Hogan Lovells; Littler Mendelson; McDermott Will & Emery; Morrison & Foerster; Perkins Coie; Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton; Squire Patton Boggs; and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

Several of those firms also topped the family-friendly list, which includes: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Dechert; Fish & Richardson; Goodwin Procter; Morrison & Foerster; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Reed Smith; Sheppard Mullin; Steptoe; and Vinson & Elkins.

Including all of the firms surveyed, 46.3 percent of associates were women, 20.3 percent of equity partners were women and 29.8 percent of lawyers promoted to equity partner were women. That marks a dip from last year’s survey, where women made up 36 percent of equity partner promotions.

“I think that a takeaway every year is how much room there is for improvement,” Levin said.

The report also found that women made up only 18.7 percent of managing partners at the firms surveyed.

“At the higher levels the firms are really seeing huge gender gaps,” said Anna Kaul, a first-year law student and co-chairwoman of publications and outreach. 

But firms did make some strides over the last year.

Last year only three firms surveyed had more than 25 percent female equity partners. This year eight law firms met that target: Hogan Lovells; Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton; Kirkland & Ellis; Littler; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Morrison & Foerster; Ropes & Gray; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

The report also included a new section about the use of mandatory arbitrations within law firms, a practice that has been the subject of much scrutiny across law school campuses.

The report found that 10.6 percent of law firms surveyed required their junior and senior associates to sign a mandatory arbitration contract regarding at least some types of disputes as a condition of employment while over 30 percent of firms required equity partners to sign a mandatory arbitration contracts.

And of the firms that disclosed their arbitration policies, 8.5 percent required junior and senior associates to sign a mandatory arbitration agreements that covered allegations of sexual assault or sexual misconduct as a condition of employment, while 20.9 percent of the firms that disclosed required equity partners to do the same.