Women have been grappling with the challenge of succeeding at law firms for decades. While many firms have taken steps to address women's concerns about balancing their work with parenthood by offering flex-time, the conversation now appears to have shifted to money equal pay, equity partnerships and training to develop that crucial book of business.
Increasingly, the focus is on whether big firms have women on key executive and compensation committees and why there are so few female managing partners.
At a recent international law conference in Miami Beach, a panel of top managing partners, all male, conceded law firms are not doing enough to promote and retain female lawyers. While the law firm leaders noted they offer flex-time to women, two female lawyers in the audience raised their hands and declared they are more concerned with other issues these days.
"It's all about money and business development," said Peggy Kubicz-Hall of Minneapolis-based Greene Espel. "You have to think about who the second is on your project. Ultimately, it's a business, and for women to get ahead they have to have clients."
Of particular concern to many women, including members of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, are several recent studies showing female lawyers are earning less and making partner at lower rates than their male counterparts, both in Florida and nationally.
According to a 2010 Florida Bar survey, the median salary of women lawyers in Florida is $70,000 while that of male lawyers is $120,000. More simply, women earn 59 cents for every dollar earned by male counterparts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a smaller gender disparity for lawyers, with women earning 86.6 percent of men.
A study of the nation's 200 largest firms conducted by the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation using data provided by law firms showed women equity partners earned 86 percent of their male counterparts.
A recent survey by legal search consultants Major, Lindsey & Africa of partners at Am Law 200, NLJ 350 and American Lawyer Global 100 firms also shows women partners lagging substantially behind their male counterparts. Not only are women partners making less than men, but the gap widened from 2010 to 2011. The income gap grew by 46 percent, with male partners' earnings increasing 8 percent while women's decreased 3 percent in the same period.
The NAWL and Major Lindsey studies illustrate that even when women attorneys work in a similar environment, such as large law firms, and become partners, they still are not paid the same as men.
"What all of this highlights is we need to work harder at getting men's attention as to supporting women lawyers," FAWL president Laura Wendell said. "I think a lot of firms have made progress in creating flexible work schedules, and that's a wonderful thing, but it needs to be accompanied by a recognition that a flexible schedule does not put you on the proverbial mommy track."