The percentage of women attorneys working in the Pennsylvania offices of the state’s 100 largest law firms has inched up slightly from 2011 to 2012, but the numbers are still lower than some expected.

It has long been noted that women make up smaller percentages of attorney headcount — something even more apparent at the equity partner level — than their male counterparts, despite years of statistics that show women graduating from law school in numbers equal to or just slightly lower than men. That phenomenon seems to have played out in Pennsylvania firms as well, according to numbers reported in Legal affiliate PaLaw 2012.

Each year, PaLaw magazine breaks down the percentage of full-time female attorneys working in the Pennsylvania offices of the 100 largest law firms in the state. While the numbers only account for the Pennsylvania offices and some firms may have more women working in other locations around the globe, for many of the 100 largest firms, their only presence is in the Keystone State, providing a good snapshot of the number of women lawyers in Pennsylvania firms.

In looking at the 95 firms for which gender data was available, 28.5 percent of lawyers working in the Pennsylvania offices of the state’s largest firms are women. That figure is up from 27.8 percent in 2011.

In looking at the percentage of lawyers in Pennsylvania offices who are female partners, the figure drops to nearly 9.9 percent. PaLaw does not differentiate between equity and nonequity partners for purposes of the percentage-of-women breakdown, so the number of female equity partners as a percentage of the overall lawyer headcount is almost certainly less than 9.9 percent.

Lisa M. Benzie of Angino & Rovner in Harrisburg is co-chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. She said it is always good to see the percentage of female attorneys increase. She said that may have to do with the fact that nearly all law firms have some sort of women’s initiative in place. Such initiatives have been around for decades in some firms, but Benzie said they are becoming more concrete and less abstract than they were in the past.

But while the overall percentage improved, Benzie said it’s important to look at the breakdown of partners, associates, staff associates and of counsel. If most of the women are moving into the staff associate or nonequity partner role, the profession needs to look at whether that was by choice or whether the doors are not open to higher-level positions.

Benzie said 28.5 percent is certainly lower than what she would hope for the profession given women had long been graduating from law school at equal rates to men, but she said it is probably close to where the numbers have been for the last decade. The concern is that some expect the number of women graduating from law school to plateau or fall in the coming years, Benzie said.

Top of the Chart

The two firms that top our list both happen to be employment law boutiques.

Since 2006, Rubin Fortunato & Harbison has come in first or second on our ranking of firms based on the percentage of full-time women attorneys in Pennsylvania. This year, the 42-lawyer firm topped our list with nearly 52.4 percent of its attorneys being women. Of the 42 lawyers in the firm, which only has offices in Pennsylvania, 11 are partners, 10 are associates and one is of counsel.

Littler Mendelson, an international labor and employment boutique with Pennsylvania offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, ranked second this year. The firm has 50 full-time attorneys in Pennsylvania and 52 percent of those are women. There are 11 female partners, 14 associates and one of counsel. The firm also has female leadership locally, with Kristine Grady Derewicz serving as managing shareholder of the Philadelphia office.

Rubin Fortunato shareholder Michael J. Fortunato said the firm doesn’t intentionally have a high percentage of female lawyers. He said the firm hires who it believes are the most talented attorneys to handle client matters.

“I would like to think that considering the critical mass of female attorneys that we have … we offer a balanced approach to practicing law because we have a critical mass and everybody’s viewpoint is represented,” Fortunato said.

He said the firm created an atmosphere that allowed for a balanced approach to practicing law and that in turn resulted in more women remaining with the firm. That critical mass of women then helps steward that environment even further, Fortunato said.

Derewicz said Littler Mendelson has a core contingent of women who have seniority in the firm and who have been very successful both professionally and personally.

“When you have people who have demonstrated success, it’s much easier to recruit young women,” Derewicz said.

More importantly, she said, having that track record makes the firm much more effective at retaining women who sometimes hit a time in their careers when they may feel pressed for time but can look around the office and see other women are getting it all done.

“When you have it, you get more of it,” Derewicz said.

She also noted that Littler Mendelson is supportive of both men and women taking a flex-time or part-time approach to their career.

Derewicz said she wouldn’t expect women to comprise 50 percent of the state’s law firm population, but she said she was surprised to see it was “barely more than a quarter.” She said there could be a number of reasons for that, but said she hoped it wasn’t because women felt they couldn’t succeed in a law firm environment.

Across the Board

The percentage of female lawyers in the Pennsylvania offices of the state’s largest firms range from Rubin Fortunato’s high of 52.4 percent to a low of 6.9 percent at Powell Trachtman Logan Carrle & Lombardo.

After Rubin Fortunato and Littler Mendelson, the next firms on the ranking of women attorneys are Willig Williams & Davidson, Lavin O’Neil Ricci Cedrone & DiSipio and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

The size of the firm seems to have little to do with the percentage of women within it.

The top 10 firms in terms of overall lawyer headcount in Pennsylvania have an interesting division, however. The top five firms — Reed Smith, Pepper Hamilton, Morgan Lewis, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin — come in above the state’s average percentage of female attorneys. Conversely, the next five on our list — Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, Cozen O’Connor, Blank Rome, Fox Rothschild and K&L Gates come in under the 28.5 percent average. Only one of those top 10 firms in terms of overall headcount, however, was able to make it into the top 30 when it came to ranking firms by percentages of women attorneys.

Morgan Lewis ranked fifth on the list, with 39.32 percent of its 295 Pennsylvania lawyers who are women. The firm has 21 female partners, 91 female associates and four female of counsel.

Nearly 29.5 percent of Reed Smith’s 312 Pennsylvania lawyers are women, with the majority of those in the associate category. The firm was ranked 40th for those results. Coming in right behind at 41st was Pepper Hamilton. More than 29.3 percent of its 307 Pennsylvania lawyers are women, including 21 partners, 63 associates and six of counsel.
Buchanan Ingersoll ranked 33rd, with women comprising 31.1 percent of its 270 Pennsylvania attorneys. Marshall Dennehey was 37th on the list, with women totaling 30.04 percent of the firm’s 253 lawyers in the state.

Of the 241 lawyers in Eckert Seamans’ Pennsylvania offices, 24.9 percent are women, placing the firm at 56th on the list. Cozen O’Connor ranked 63rd with women making up 23.42 percent of its 222 attorneys in Pennsylvania. Blank Rome ranked 66th, with women comprising 23.22 percent of its 211 Pennsylvania lawyers.

Fox Rothschild and K&L Gates, which finish off the top 10 list of the largest law firms in Pennsylvania, were ranked 72nd and 71st, respectively, when it came to the percentage of women working in their Pennsylvania offices. At Fox Rothschild, 21.53 percent of the firm’s 209 lawyers in the state are women. At K&L Gates, 21.63 percent of the firm’s 208 Pennsylvania lawyers are women.

Greenberg Traurig, in the news recently for a gender bias suit that was filed against it by a former Philadelphia shareholder who said the firm paid women less and stifled their ability to advance, placed eighth on our list with about 38.9 percent of the 36 Philadelphia attorneys who are women.

That percentage was based off of there being eight female shareholders, five female associates and one female of counsel as of June 2012, the cutoff for headcount figures provided to PaLaw. But as reported in The Legal earlier this week, the firm now has 33 attorneys in Pennsylvania, including six female shareholders, four female associates and one female of counsel, according to the firm’s website. That would bring Greenberg Traurig down to 33.3 percent women in Pennsylvania, which is still above the state average.

The five firms that did not provide gender specific data to PaLaw were Jones Day, Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, Weir & Partners, German Gallagher & Murtagh and Metz Lewis Brodman Must O’Keefe.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.