Yale Law Women Report Shows Even Best Firms Can Improve Ranks

When Walmart informed their top 100 law firms back in June 2005 that they would end or limit their relationship if they “failed to demonstrate a meaningful interest in the importance of diversity,” many firms took notice. Few months later, Walmart reported their initiative had resulted in changing of 40 relationship attorneys at their top 100 law firms, “representing a shift of $60 million worth of legal work to be managed by women or minority attorneys.” Many regard Walmart’s action in 2005 as the cause for a tidal change in the legal industry towards Diversity and Inclusion improvements.

Also when we first approached law firms about the opportunity to try the first fully integrated technology platform for improving Diversity and Inclusion in a systematic and disciplined way, we were mostly told that due to the Walmart effect, the industry as a whole was way ahead and most had little need to improve.

So you can only imagine our surprise today when we learned that the Yale Law Women Report shows even the top firms for gender diversity still have some ways to go. For example, “Just 3 of the Top 10 firms have at least 25 percent women in equity partnership ranks”!

Source: Stephanie Russel-Kraft, Bloomberg, April 16, 2019

Major law firms are gaining in promoting and advancing women and offering family friendly policies but improvement is slow, the annual Yale Law Women report showed on Tuesday.

Just three of the firms making the report’s Top 10 list this year for gender equity, for instance, have at least 25 percent women in their equity partnership ranks. In last year’s report, only one firm in the category hit that benchmark.

“One really important thing we’ve seen is the immense need for improvement overall,” said Elizabeth Levin, co-chair of the Top 10 committee. “We have a Top 10 list of firms making strides, but there was no perfect gender equitable firm.”

The Yale Law Women report has long been a benchmark for firms hoping to woo top law students who care about gender equity.

The report, now in its 14th year, highlights law firms that are above average when it comes to their parental leave policies, flexible work options, promotion and advancement of women in leadership roles, training and mentorship offerings.

The Top 10 firms for gender equity, in alphabetical order, are: Bryan Cave, Fish & Richardson, Hogan Lovells, Littler Mendelson, McDermott Will & Emery, Morrison & Foerster, Perkins Coie, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, Squire Patton Boggs, and Steptoe & Johnson.

The Top 10 family friendly firms are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Dechert, Fish & Richardson, Goodwin Procter, Morrison & Foerster, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Reed Smith, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, Steptoe & Johnson, and Vinson & Elkins.

The report doesn’t include data about ongoing lawsuits against firms.

Morrison & Foerster, which made it onto both Top 10 lists, faces a proposed class action brought by former attorneys who claim they were discriminated against because of their gender after taking maternity leave.

Beyond the Yale Law Women report, other elite law students also have used their status as future lawyers to make a mark on the industry.

In the past year, Harvard student-led Pipeline Parity Project has led the charge on eliminating mandatory arbitration agreements, which students say are exploitative and prevent discrimination cases from being heard in court. Several firms, including Kirkland & Ellis, have eliminated employee arbitration agreements as a result.

The Yale Law Women Top 10 lists didn’t incorporate data about mandatory arbitration agreements, but the full report includes a one-page descriptive section about the agreements.

Of the firms that disclosed their policies, 30 percent said they require arbitration contracts for equity partners, and 8.5 percent said they require them for junior and senior associates.

The Yale Law Women Top 10 lists were created using 2018 data collected from firms listed in the Vault Law 100. The data included family accommodations and parental leave policies, partnership promotions, the gender breakdown of leadership committees, and data about women of color and LGBTQ women at the firms. The participation rate topped 50 percent.