Family Friendly Policies Needed in Law Firms to Promote Family Restoration

In a recent report the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) says that law firms may be making strides toward diversification of their employeees, but a family friendly work environment could promote stronger families for their employees, and more accurate representation of society in general as well.

Of particular note was the fact that proportions of minority employees rose in law firms in 2011. The proportions of lawyers who are racial minorities at large U.S. law firms rose in 2011 while those who are women declined slightly from the prior year, according to a report (http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=smgk-8napv9) released Nov. 3, 2011, by the National Association for Law Placement. In 2010, “on the heels of the recession, we saw the figures for women and minority associates dip for the first time since NALP began tracking lawyer demographics at law firms,” said James Leipold, NALP's executive director. “The 2011 figures reveal that a year later, while the figures for minority associates have bounced back, the overall number of women associates actually declined further,” Leipold said. “This is a significant finding.”

The downward trend for female associates is troubling. The newest data suggest that the temporary setback for minority representation found in 2010 has been reversed but that the representation of women among associates has continued to trend downward, the report said. “The loss of women has slowed, but at a time when far too few women make up the partnership ranks of U.S. law firms, this is not a trend that can be ignored,” Leipold said. Among all lawyers, the share of women fell to 32.6 percent from 32.7 percent in 2010, while the proportion of minorities increased to 12.7 percent from 12.4 percent, NALP said, based on data compiled from its 2010-2011 Directory of Legal Employers. Among law firm partners, the share of women rose to 19.5 percent this year from 19.4 percent in 2010, while the proportion of minorities rose to 6.6 percent from 6.2 percent. Meanwhile, among law firm associates, the share of women remained little changed this year at 45.4 percent, while the proportion of minorities rose to 19.9 percent from 19.5 percent in 2010. Minority women continue to be the least represented at law firms, at 2.0 percent of partners and 11.0 percent of associates, NALP said. The directory of 124,000 lawyers at 1,349 offices was compiled in early 2011 and does not reflect staff changes that may have occurred since then.

Women and minorities increased, however, in D.C. and New York. Examining lawyers at a consistent group of “core” office listings in the five largest metropolitan areas represented in the directory, NALP said representation of women and minorities among partners and associates improved only in New York and Washington, D.C., and not in Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles. In all five cities, most of the changes were small, less than one percentage point. Over the 18 years NALP has tracked diversity at law firms, total gains for women and minorities have been “only marginal,” the group said.

The text of the report on law firm diversity may be accessed at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=smgk-8napv9 . Law firms have not been known for their family friendliness toward female attorney associates and partners, but that does not mean that such an environment is not possible. In fact, the subject of mothers as great attorney hires has already been addressed in Lynne Marie Kohm, A Fresh Perspective on Women and Motherhood: The Traditional Values Mother Is One of a Few Good Men, 81 WOMEN LAWYERS J. 8 (June 1995); and the matter of hiring married women (and men) to foster firm and societal stability and strength has also been addressed in Lynne Marie Kohm, Does Marriage Make Good Business? Examining the Notion of Employer Endorsement of Marriage, 25 WHITTIER L. REV. 563 (2004).

Family friendly policies in law firms can make a tremendous difference in family restoration, for attorney employees certainly, but also for staff and clients as well, communicating that family strength is significantly important to that firm, an ideal that is well worth upholding for both society, the firm and those it serves.

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