The number of women enrolled in law school has been steadily rising over the past decade. And since 2016, the majority of law school enrollees have been female. Yet, female attorneys make up just 37.3% of law firm workforce in the US. This (already too low) percentage is propped up by bottom-up diversity hires, as shown by the soaring rates of female attorney attrition by partnership level. In fact, Law360’s Glass Ceiling report notes just 22.2% of equity partners are female.
These figures do not consider the expected exodus of female attorneys due to the pandemic.
Founding Partner Hannah Genton shares her thoughts on how law firms can retain female talent through to partnership in a changing world.
Lawyers today are different. So, why isn’t the legal structure changing?
“The face of the typical attorney has changed, but the traditional structure within law firms has remained stagnant. That structure doesn’t make sense for many female attorneys.”
The attrition of female lawyers is much higher than that of their male counterparts. The reasons for this are multifaceted, and include fewer opportunities for progression, feeling overlooked for promotions, barriers to re-entry following childbirth, and wage disparity.
Internal promotion and hiring policies centered around the billable hour compound these issues.
Clients are changing too. It’s time to embed holistic standards for promotion.
The billable hour model favors the attorneys who spend the most hours in their chairs at work. That’s not a reward system that allows caregivers to position themselves competitively.
These standards embed sight-sighted obstacles that don’t contemplate the value of creative lawyering, client service, teamwork, and efficiency. Incidentally, these skills are the criteria that legal clients are using to assess the value they derive from their legal service providers.
The Fix for Female Attorney Attrition: Metrics that focus on quality, not quantity.
Moving away from metrics that reward quantity is complicated for law firms whose revenue is tied to the billable hour. It is also incredibly necessary.
Law firms should consider billable hours alongside metrics that measure the impact of female attorney involvement on client satisfaction and case outcome. Any billable hour requirements should be adjusted for flexible workplace arrangements.
Efficiency, measured in terms of the length of time matters run for, should also be a key consideration.
“I’ve said before that law firms should give any task they need to be quickly completed to a mother. Mothers don’t want to bill countless hours after close of business. They want to achieve what they need to, and go home to their family.”
Create space for attorneys who cater to clients with different needs
Boutique and alternative law firms cropped up in response to the changing face of legal clients. These models recognize that not all clients have the same needs or the same values.
Increasing demand for these alternative models shows that law firms should be thoughtful in addressing the needs of their clients. By promoting a diverse workforce and a diverse partnership team, law firms are better equipped to attract and retain clients with diverse needs and priorities.
And that’s an incredible competitive advantage in our changing world.
Find out how CGL is making space for female attorneys to work outside of the traditional law firm model – and how that’s helping reduce female attorney attrition.
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