Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the achievements of women throughout American history, and it is also a time to consider where progress is yet to be made before women are on truly equal footing. When it comes to the legal profession, the historically male-dominated industry has made significant strides; for example, women have comprised the majority of new law students for the past several years. Despite this impressive fact, however, representation significantly declines at more senior levels—the most recent Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey revealed that 75 percent of law firm partners are male. Clearly, there is work to be done when it comes to providing an infrastructure that allows women to climb the career ladder at the same rate as their male counterparts. But in recent years, many law firms have doubled down on their efforts to support women, and it has not gone unnoticed.
In Vault’s most recent Annual Associate Survey, more than 20,000 law firm associates weighed in on the commitment to diversity at their firms, including specifically as to women. Their feedback yielded Vault’s 2021 Best Law Firms for Women ranking for large firms and Vault’s 2021 Best Midsize Law Firms for Diversity for midsize firms. Associates shared details about how their firms support women, including through affinity groups and mentorship; initiatives like flexible work policies, non-gender-specific parental leave, and Mindful Return; and onsite perks, including childcare, private nursing rooms, and breastmilk shipping.
To learn more, we spoke to women at some of the top-ranked firms. In the following videos, you’ll hear firsthand how these firms are supporting women at all stages of their legal careers.
Amanda Santella has worked at O’Melveny for nearly 10 years, where she has found ample support for both her professional development and family life. Some of the initiatives she has found most beneficial include affinity groups for women, back-to-work transition coaching, and flexible work arrangements. Amanda is also co-chair of the firm’s Associate and Counsel Advisory Committee, which often advocates on behalf of women at the firm.
Sheryl Koval Garko discusses the training opportunities that Orrick offers specifically for women, including business development programs, and notes how these initiatives are paying off—for example, the firm’s Board and Management Committee comprises 35 percent women. Kyle Kessler then shares advice on what to look for when it comes to evaluating how a law firm supports women, and she shares how she has felt supported when it comes to balancing work and family life.
Hannah Richard shares her experience as a new mom and how she has felt supported by the policies and initiatives at Clifford Chance—including generous parental leave, coaching services for the transition back to work, and a flexible work schedule. Then, Mariana Estévez provides tips for how to evaluate diversity for women at law firms.
Jessica Sheridan talks about various opportunities Willkie provides for women, including through the firm’s Women’s Professional Develop Committee. She highlights “Women’s Mentoring Circles,” which provide the opportunity to meet other women at the firm beyond those in an attorney’s day-to-day practice. She also shares advice for women entering the legal profession and emphasizes the importance of relationship building.
Bernadette Duran-Brown discusses her personal experience as a woman in the legal industry and challenges she faced earlier in her career—and how receiving mentorship at Nossaman and remaining “persistent and stubborn" has helped her succeed. Today, she pays it forward by mentoring women entering the legal profession and encouraging them to advocate for themselves.
Congratulations to these and all of our top-ranked firms for recognizing the importance of supporting women in the legal profession! To view the 2021 Best Law Firms for Women, click here. To view the 2021 Best Midsize Law Firms for Diversity, click here.
Women's History Month is not just an "observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. " It also provides us with an opportunity to reflect (and act) upon the important ways in which our systems and institutions can support women in every aspect of their lives.
Increasing racial and ethnic diversity has become a primary focus within the legal industry, and the conversation has been especially at the forefront in the wake of the social justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd. While progress has been slow going overall—nearly 90 percent of law firm partners are white and just 2 percent of equity partners are Black, according to the 2020 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey—many firms have prioritized their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.