Are Women’s Initiatives in Big Law Firms Really Underfunded, or Misdirected?
Why do I have the feeling that discussing Women’s Initiatives in law firms will only get me into trouble?
A recent report by the National Association of Women Lawyers finds that 97% of large law firms have women’s initiatives, but that they often lack the funding and goals to make a difference. I read the entire 34-page report, and came to a few conclusions. First, nothing surprised me about the results. Second, most of the concerns correlate to one another. Yes, there are less equity partners, thus yes, women don’t end up with as much rainmaking credit; thus yes, women don’t end up in positions of firm-wide leadership (since they are not equity partners and not originating business); and yes, women don’t receive the same compensation since they are not originating as much business. In the end, it all comes back to the ability to generate business.
What the report fails to do is offer any real solutions to the stated problems. I’ve worked with many similar initiatives over the last 10+ years and found mixed results. For the most part, it is not for a lack of funding. Law firms finance these efforts, and finance related activities. Surprisingly (that is my mocking voice), putting a firm logo or advertisement in a dinner program or similar magazine supplement does not make things better. Providing “workshops” on rainmaking by people that are not actually female lawyer rainmakers in real life don’t help either (if you are going to be effective, then you need to provide women partners from your own law firm). And, finally, providing spa services and high teas (yes, these are done) does not lead a female associate into the partnership and leadership ranks of a law firm.