Does BigLaw Hate Women, Or Do Women Hate BigLaw?

frustrated woman

Everyone wants to figure out why there are so few women in the upper echelons of BigLaw.

According to NALP, in 2009 women comprised 19% of partners in the nation’s largest law firms. The unbalance isn’t as prolific in the lesser ranks of the industry, though — females make up 46% of associates in the same NALP firms and 48% of law students, according to the ABA.

In the Las Vegas Sun today, Lewis and Roca partner Lisa Wong Lackland writes that the discrepancy is partly attributable to one simple theory: women do not want to be a BigLaw partner.

It’s a logical call. Gunning for a partner position means succumbing to a life of small and large sacrifices. But even if you manage to stay on partner track after having a baby (not that having children is a given for all women), their are inherent complications.

Being a part-time associate is often part-time in name only—the expectation to be constantly available or on-call does not dissipate.

Conventional reasons for the lack of female partners, including potential stereotyping, review bias, and lack of mentors (and being called out for communication skills) are all well and good for the sake of argument, but there’s no unassailable proof that the cause for lack of female leadership is solely due to external factors in the lives of women in BigLaw. Wong Lackland argues that “law firm leaders…need to remain committed to providing a woman with the environment necessary to becoming a partner.”

If she is right, it boils down to the cliched solution: if you build it, they will come. Create a better firm with a more enlightened view of what makes the most effective employees, and women will rise to the occasion. But by changing the field, will the game change?

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