Women make gains at law firms, study shows

Equality for women in the legal industry continues to improve, according to the 2012 Working Mother & Flex-Time Lawyers Best Law Firms for Women, an initiative that recognizes law firms with family-friendly policies and business development initiatives for women.

The 2012 data shows there has been an uptick in the number of women on high level committees at law firms. Female lawyers now hold 21 percent of the seats on the executive committee, up from 19 percent in 2011, and 21 percent of the seats on the compensation committee, up from 18 percent in 2011.

“To see women in higher leadership roles is really important because that means there is a leadership pipeline that is developing,” said Deborah Epstein Henry founder & president of Flex-Time Lawyers LLC. “And when we get to a place where there is more representation of women at the top, it will allow for many more opportunities for women who are coming through the ranks. So leadership is a very important area.”

The report, which began publishing annually in 2007 by Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers, is based on surveys collected from the top 50 law firms selected from a pool of self-selected applicant firms with 50 lawyers or more in the United States.

Henry said flex-time was another area that improved, with 17 percent of lawyers using the flexible work arrangement this year, up from 11 percent in 2011.

“Part of it is flexibility — you have a third of women lawyers leaving the profession independent of maternity leave,” Henry said. “So it’s really important that work-life policies are accessible and people feel like they can really use them without stigma.”

Parental leave has become more flexible, offering 15 weeks of fully paid leave to mother Lawyers, which is up from 14 weeks last year and from 12 weeks the first year of the initiative. Paternal leave has not only improved for women, but men as well. The law firms surveyed in the report offer six weeks of paid leave to fathers, and 11 weeks of paid leave to adoptive parents

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