(Illustration via iStock)
This week, the latest report from the National Association of Women Lawyers showed that the gender pay gap among equity partners has widened, with the number of women partners rising only incrementally in the last decade.
But Caren Stacy, creator of the OnRamp Fellowship, which aims to help women re-enter the legal procession, isn’t deterred.
“We can either wallow in the data and [say], ‘We are so terrible at this,’” said Stacy, “or we can flip it on its head and say, ‘What we’re doing hasn’t worked, let’s try something new.’” In conversations about OnRamp, she said, partners and practice heads are eager to seek out strategies.
That is why she is now actively recruiting partners from 54 law firms to find ways to attract and retain women lawyers, hoping that the partners’ competitive nature can help tackle the Big Law gender gap.
Stacy is calling the project the Women in Law Hackathon—a name she admits has given some lawyers pause.
“It is a new word for these lawyers,” she said. Some have even asked her if a “hackathon,” which is typically a gathering of coders who come together for a few days to solve problems, is something illegal.
Stacy started her recruitment efforts on Wednesday, and by Thursday morning 14 firms had signed on, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Goodwin Procter, Morrison & Foerster, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Reed Smith, Sidley Austin, Vinson & Elkins, Weil, Gotshal & Manges and White & Case.
One partner from each of the 54 firms will be placed on a team of six. The teams will work from January to June to come up with proposals to “better recruit, advance and retain experienced women in midsized and large law firms.” The top three ideas will be awarded cash prizes, funded by Bloomberg Law, which the winning partners will donate to a nonprofit that is advancing women in the legal profession.
Orrick board member Christina Sarchio will join one of the teams. As a commercial litigator, she said she’s often the only woman in the room—not to mention the only Hispanic woman.
“It’s hard-charging, demanding and aggressive, and I’m on the road a lot,” she said of her work. “But you suffer through it.”
Despite the challenges, she said she’s glad she stuck it out and now finds that she has a lot of flexibility. She often encourages other young women in law to keep with it, because it will pay off, she said.
White & Case finance partner and executive committee member David Koschik is another of the lawyers who’s signed on to join a team, a decision he said was easy and simple.
“I think the plain truth is that there are challenges to retaining our women lawyers at the firm,” Koschik said. He noted that for many years, the firm’s incoming class has been about 50 percent women, but that in years three and four and in the early partnership years, attrition rates between men and women tend to noticeably diverge. This year’s class of new White & Case partners is 35 percent women, he said.
“The advancement of women in the profession and here at the firm is something that we have been dealing with and is something we are engaged with,” he said.
Stacy said she has encouraged firms to send a high-profile partner who has the influence to implement new ideas once the best projects are picked. The winning ideas will be shared widely on social media in the hope that any company can use them, she said.