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The number of women working in the nation’s largest law firms went basically unchanged in 2012.

Women equaled about one-third of the attorneys working at NLJ 350 firms and accounted for about 16 percent of equity partners.

The results, from The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of the nation’s largest law firms, showed only slight differences from the 2011 numbers. In 2012, women made up 33.4 percent of the attorneys at those firms, compared with 33 percent in 2011. Among equity partners, women totaled 15.9 percent in 2012 compared with 15.3 percent the year before.

The results were based on gender breakdowns provided by 82 percent of the NLJ 350 firms during the 2012 survey and by 86 percent of the firms for the NLJ 250 in 2011.

Among associates, women comprised 45.3 percent in 2012 — a small increase over 2011, when 44.7 of associates were women.

The biggest change — though, again, not sizeable — was among nonequity partners. Last year, 25.8 percent of the nonequity partners were women; in 2011, women made up 24.7 percent of that category.

Women equity and nonequity partners grouped together equaled 19 percent of partners in 2012 and 18.8 percent in 2011.

The partner numbers stood in marked contrast to the percentage of women in law schools. Last year, 46.7 percent of students at law schools accredited by the ABA were women, according to the ABA.

The findings from the NLJ 350, which include law firms ranging from 117 to 4,034 lawyers, are in line with independent indicators. For example, an ABA study based on data provided by 44 states found that women in 2012 represented 33.3 percent of all attorneys in private practice and 15 percent of equity partners. Forty-five percent of associates were women.

"I have hope that things will change," said Deborah Froling, president-elect of the National Association of Women and a partner at Arent Fox. Law firms have made progress in implementing programs to attract and retain women attorneys, she said, but they also became complacent during the economic downturn. "We’ve been through a rough patch."

Clients, she said, have the power to force law firms to hire more women. "Law firms are reactive and not proactive, and so when clients require change, law firms change."

Contact Leigh Jones at ljones@alm.com. Read the complete 2013 NLJ 350 report.

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