ALM Columnist Says Women Aren’t In the Top Echelons of the Legal Profession Because They Don’t Rule at Big Law.

ALM Columnist Vivia Chen’s recent rant on the latest “Best Law Firms for Women” lists starts out promisingly enough as Chen questions why the lists reward law firms for effort, rather than result. As Chen points out, many of the law firms on the four different lists focus on child-friendly policies like part time availability or caregiver leave or simply the number of female attorneys over all. And as Chen points out, that’s not enough – “the proof in the equality pudding is how many women are elevated to equity partner.”

But Chen’s piece is downhill from there. Because apparently, Chen – like so many other women believes that if women haven’t made it at biglaw, nothing else matters. Chen writes that “Women are scarce in the top echelons of the profession” – i.e., big law – and that the fact that there are so few female equity partners even on the “Best Firms for Women List” is “a sad statement of how much women lag behind.”

Really, Ms. Chen?

There are hundreds of women who have started and run their own law firms for years – yet to folks like you, we might as well be invisible . During my career, I’ve gone up against Am Law 100 Firms dozens of times – so why is it that the big law women I litigate against count for purposes of determining whether we’ve achieved equality in the legal profession, but I don’t?  And what about the thousands of women running thriving legal practices around the country – you’ve written all of us off more thoroughly than the big law firms that you criticize as sexist.

A recent New York Law Journal article  documents the growing trend of women leaving big law to start their own shops. And why not? GC’s are chomping at the bit to hire more women, and with today’s technology, a small woman-owned firm can handle the work as efficiently and effectively as big law. Plus, by hiring a woman owned firm, a GC is guaranteed of a woman actually handling the work, instead of being tacked on the case like a beard.

What’s more, no one really wants to work at big law these days anyway. For starters, corporations won’t allow big law to put younger associates on cases, which further diminishes opportunities for women to get training. Since many women lawyers often begin having children five or six years into their career, they’ll have a hard time catching up even at the most progressive of law firms if they never had the opportunity for training to begin with. Moreover, big law is dying, with much of the work it used to do being displaced by #altlaw providers, and eventually robots and AI. Sure, biglaw will always have a chance for bet the company litigation and massive transactions, but that’s a small sliver of the overall market. Opportunities abound elsewhere.

In any other context, including the male-dominated tech space,  female entrepreneurship  is both respected and revered.  In the legal profession, female law firm ownership doesn’t make a whit of difference – unless of course, that woman is bequeathed ownership by a group of men.


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1 Comment

  1. Michelle W. Cohen on October 9, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    thoughtful article Carolyn…and if BigLaw is not advancing amazing women, these women can do amazing things elsewhere, and they are. I’ve said before there’s been a huge talent pool lost since the 1990s…but women have found ways to advance in law on their own terms – this ultimately benefits other women and clients too.

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