National Association Of Women Lawyers Releases Sixth Annual Survey

The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL®) and The NAWL Foundation® released the results of their sixth annual Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. The Survey is the only national study of the nation’s 200 largest law firms which annually tracks the progress of women lawyers at all levels of private practice, including the most senior positions, and collects data on firms as a whole rather than from a subset of individual lawyers.

"For the first time since the Survey began in 2006, there was a noted decline in the number of women entering big-firm practice. Women lawyers already leave big-firm practice at a greater pace than their male counterparts, and this narrowing of the pipeline at the entry level, however slight, only further decreases the pool of women available for promotion," said NAWL President Heather Giordanella, counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. "We hope that this decrease does not signal the beginning of a downward trend for women in the profession."

The Survey once again examined the impact that the changing structure of law firms had on women lawyers, examining in greater detail the impact of non-partner track roles on women’s advancement.

Firms are employing staff attorneys at greater rates with women lawyers—most with considerable seniority -- continuing to hold the majority of these positions. Additionally, women account for more than one-third of counsel attorneys; however, only a minority of firms indicated that most of their counsel are eligible to become partners.

"The sixth year of the survey presents a sobering picture," said The NAWL Foundation president Stephanie Scharf, partner at Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Scharf in Chicago, who has designed and developed the survey since 2006." Not only do women represent a decreasing percentage of lawyers in big firms, they are more likely to occupy positions like staff attorneys, counsel, and fixed-income equity partners -- with diminished opportunity for advancement or participation in firm leadership."

"We are heartened that 95 percent of responding firms sponsor women’s initiatives and programs for assisting with career advancement," added Barbara Flom, secretary of The NAWL Foundation and chair of the 2011 Survey Committee. "We hope the benchmarks provided by the Survey will further such efforts."

Highlights of the Survey include the following: women's ranks in firms are thinning; women lawyers are more likely to occupy positions that are not partner track; women have a much lower rate than men in promotion to equity partnership; women are not credited as rainmakers; women have low representation in law firm leadership; compensation decisions disfavor women; and two-tier/mixed-tier firms are less favorable to women.

The full NAWL survey report can be accessed by visiting