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Working Mother Magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers Announce The First-Ever List of the Best Law Firms for Women


Working Mother Magazine, the authoritative source for career mothers, and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, a national consulting firm advising attorneys and legal employers on work-life balance and the retention and advancement of women, yesterday announced the list of the 2007 Working Mother & Flex-Time Lawyers Best Law Firms for Women. The winning firms are notable for their work/life and women-friendly policies—including flex-time, child care and women-focused mentoring, leadership and networking programs—as they set new standards to retain and promote top female legal talent.

Applications for the 2008 list are now being accepted here.

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There have been several comments on other blogs and elsewhere about the value of these types of competitions and lists. There have been negative comments about the plethora of press releases touting the winning firms. On balance, there can be a definite upside.

(Even as a marketer)I agree that we don't need more press releases and that individuals in firms both on the winner list and not will have different experiences, frequently based on the attitudes of their supervisors and work teams.

The good thing is to spread the talk and, hopefully, action about flexibility. Another aim of the "best firms" competition is to get the competitve juices and actions going in the firms that didn't make the cut.

The hope is that the desire for bragging rights makes firms do the right thing. Time will tell if this sort of thing speeds up progress.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot and

It's a sad commentary when the best law firms only have, on average, 25% female partners (equity and nonequity), when the female to male ratio is approximately 50/50 during law school and year 1 out of law school. These firms are not worthy of the superlative "best." If I were to name the list, I would call it the "50 Law Firms That Are Less Likely to be Deadends When You Have Children."

Eight years ago, as a commercial litigator, I founded Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, a consulting firm advising lawyers and employers on work/life balance and the retention and promotion of women. In 2006, I met with Working Mother to propose conducting a national survey on work/life and women's issues and to create a list of the Best Law Firms for Women. My motivation was simple: use competition as an instrument of change. As I brainstormed with Working Mother, many concerns came to mind: celebrating firms too soon; encouraging bragging rights; creating complacency; and minimizing the struggles of women lawyers. These are the same concerns raised by some blog posts. I believe these concerns are outweighed by the long term benefits of running a survey that will help overcome obstacles for women lawyers. These benefits include: using competition as an instrument of change; creating a benchmarking standard; sharing information to open the dialogue for women and facilitate policy changes; empowering women law students to become another pressure point for change; and raising the visibility of work/life and women's issues.

I have watched as the numbers of women partners at law firms, the numbers of women leaders at law firms, the numbers of women rainmakers, the numbers of women working flexibly and the numbers of women advancing while working flexibly, have remained exceedingly low and stagnant. It is long overdue to create a baseline for law firms not only to let them know where they stand today but, more importantly, to help them improve their future standing. Many firms are poised to start devoting significant attention and resources to improve their retention and promotion of women. However, they do not even know their strengths and weaknesses or where to start. Firms that elected to participate in our free survey of about 500 questions received a scorecard giving them a snapshot of how they compared to the other applicants. Firms have also been invited to purchase an extensive benchmarking report to begin answering their own questions to reverse the gender gap. The profession as a whole will benefit from the survey through an article I will author later this year reporting on the data and trends we identified in law firms relating to programs, policies, usage rates and representation of women. The ultimate objective of the Best Law Firms for Women list is to invigorate a dialogue, measure where we are, arm firms and lawyers with information to change, create a competition and compulsion among firms, and continue to raise the bar of what makes a best law firm for women. For an article that explains the survey methodology and provides a more thorough discussion of why the Best Law Firms for Women initiative is so important, please see and for more information about the initiative, please see

Deborah Epstein Henry, Esq.
Founder & President
Flex-Time Lawyers LLC
[email protected]

In response to this survey, I submit an article by Judge Nancy Gertner of the Massachusetts District Court.

The revolution of falling expectations

By Nancy Gertner

In the 1960s, social critics spoke about the "revolution of rising expectations," describing the phenomenon in which succeeding generations of Americans expected to do better than their parents and the conflicts that resulted when they did not.
If the latest issue of Working Mother magazine trumpeting the "50 Best Law Firms for Women" is any indication, we are now in the midst of "the revolution of falling expectations," which will have its own serious consequences.
Working Mother â€" in an altogether commendable effort to monitor the progress of women in the largest firms â€" ranked them by various measures, including the percentage of women equity partners and non-equity partners, and the number of women in management positions.
Several Boston firms made the grade with the percentage of women equity partners ranging from 10 to 21 percent. Lawyers Weekly noted the results in a "People in the Law" section dubbed "Honors."
While these firms should be lauded for their commitment to women's progress, the "Honors" label has to be put into context. And that context is disheartening, to say the least. Can any firm truly be recognized as "the best" when the percentage of women equity partners is below the Massachusetts average, which is 17 percent women equity partners? (All but three of the listed firms are below that number.)
For years we believed that once law school graduation rates substantially equalized between men and women, the pipeline of women associates would lead to equality in partnerships and managerial ranks. That pipeline has been gushing for decades, but profound disparities between men and women remain.
Twenty years after women began graduating from law schools in equal numbers to men, women still do not comprise close to 50 percent of the partners; attrition threatens even the meager gains attained.
In Boston, with its excellent law schools, the numbers should be even more favorable to women's advancement. By 2008 we would have expected parity in the national legal community and, especially, our own. We ought to be demanding it now.
Recent data suggest that more women than men are entering Boston law firms at the associate level. In 2003 and 2004, the numbers were 46 percent men and 54 percent women. What do we tell these women about their future legal careers? Do we say that no matter how many women are entering as associates, nothing will change? Only a few will make it to the highest echelons of firm life?
The question that should be raised by the figures in Working Mother, and raised loudly, is why so few women have made it to the equity partner level? To be sure, many of us have been asking that very question for some time.
In 1998, Lauren Stiller Rikleen, then the president of the Boston Bar Association, organized a task force on "Professional Challenges and Family Needs," which produced a nationally recognized report noting the need for "individualized work family plans" and support for "family work" alternatives.
In 2000, the Women's Bar Association released a groundbreaking report titled "More Than Part-Time," which studied the powerful effect of reduced-hours arrangements on the retention, recruitment and success of women attorneys in law firms.
In 2003, in an address before the WBA, I called for urgent attention to the relative lack of women in leadership positions at firms. I linked the lack of women in leadership to the conflicting demands of law firm practice and women's child care responsibilities. I challenged the WBA to create a commission "to work on what we need to do now to make the workplace safe for mothers and fathers." The WBA, BBA and MBA formed the Equality Commission and worked with the MIT Workplace Center to study the problem.
More recently, the Equality Commission has issued the MIT Workplace Center report, "Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership," that begins to tell the story: "The loss of women to leadership in the law follows directly from a failure in the profession to respond imaginatively to a dual need for time â€" time for work and time for families."
And it concludes: "[B]uilding time for families into law firm practice is not a general institutional norm. The availability of flexible arrangements for family care is indeterminate, unpredictable. Finding a way to combine law firm practice and care for families is at present an individual responsibility, and it generally carries professional penalties. Change in these practices is essential if women are to advance to leadership in the legal profession."
The attrition rate for women is not without serious consequences to the law firms in particular and to women's progress in the profession in general. Working Mother noted that firms lose $300,000 per third-year associate lost and replaced. The MIT report found that 30 percent of the women who enter law firms leave, while only 20 percent of the men do, and of those women who became equity partners, 15 percent leave.
And beyond the financial cost to the firms is the profound cost to the profession â€" the future of women's continued progress in law as the ranks of senior women are depleted.
We understand Working Mother's goals â€" to monitor women's progress, to create benchmarks â€" and we applaud its efforts. And we likewise applaud the firms it "honored" for doing better than most, but no one reading the article or the Lawyers Weekly item should be remotely satisfied.
We most assuredly are not.
Judge Nancy Gertner sits on the U.S. District Court bench. This article was written on behalf of the Equality Commission.

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