AM Law’s The American Lawyer Magazine has reported that almost 80 percent of AM Law’s Top 100 list of American legal firms have two or fewer women serving on their governing boards; 42 percent have just one female member. Many firms reported having governing committee lacking women entirely, however there exist some firms with women composing one-third to one-half of a governing or compensation committee.
Most of the 93 reporting firms presented familiar excuses explaining the lack of female leaders: that the number of women qualified for senior partnerships is small or that many women decline the position due to the time and administrative costs of the role. Nearly all firms with a vast underrepresentation of women argued that they were no worse than their peers despite understanding that they need more women in leadership positions. The most commonly cited explanation for the dearth of women leaders was the supposed higher attrition rate among female lawyers.
Just 14 of the 93 reporting firms had even a single governing committee with female partners composed of over 25 percent women. The average female representation in committee leadership roles was 16.8 percent; that is nearly two seats out of every 11 in a governing committee. Firms with a second governing committee saw a small increase in women members rising to an average 20 percent on the larger governing committee.
On compensation committees, women occupy an average of 18 percent of committee seats and represent 20 percent of practice group leaders and 15 percent of office managing partners. It is worth noting that sometimes single women are double counted as they occupy seats on more than one committee.