Women associates are now in a clear majority at some of Chicago's top law firms, but the percent of women partners at Chicago law firms dipped slightly in 2010, according to a report from the Call to Action initiative presented at a Tuesday event at Jenner & Block LLP.
The report was based on data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). The data showed that the percent of women partners in Chicago for all law firms that report their statistics to NALP was 19.92 percent for 2010.
This was a drop from 20.11 percent of women law partners in 2009, according to the report. (The NALP average for Chicago for 2011 has not yet been published.)
The event was titled the Women's Leadership Institute sponsored by the Alliance for Women of The Chicago Bar Association and the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law Firms. The data was presented by Jane DiRenzo Pigott, managing director of R3 Group LLC.
Although the overall average of women partners at Chicago law firms is not yet available, data presented by Pigott showed that the top three Chicago law firms for the highest percentage of women partners in 2011, are:
Troutman, Sanders LLP, 57.1 percent women partners;
Jackson, Lewis LLP, 50 percent;
Cook County state's attorney's office, 47.2 percent.
Pigott's charts said supervisors in the state's attorney's office were counted as partners.
E. Lynn Grayson, a partner at Jenner & Block and moderator of Tuesday's discussion, said in an interview that the economy was probably the reason for the drop in the percentage of women law partners in Chicago in 2010.
"Many of us that are focused on this issue suspected that the economy had an adversely larger impact on women in law firms," Grayson said.
"I suspect that we will see not only a slight downturn in 2010. I suspect perhaps an even greater downturn of women partners in 2011" when that data becomes available.
The phenomenon of majority women associates in some of Chicago's top law firms is explained by the fact that disproportionately more women are graduating at the top of the class from America's top law schools, Pigott said.
Asked what the proper balance should be of men and women in law firms, Pigott said, "You would say that it should reflect population. … You probably don't mean population of the city of Chicago. You probably mean population of those graduating from law school."
The percent of women graduates from all law schools today is about 48 percent, Pigott said. "But if you look at the top law schools and their top graduates, it's disproportionately female. …
"If what you are trying to hire is the best and brightest from the best law schools, 60 percent or higher of your hires would be female."
The latest data on women associates in Chicago law firms showed the top 10 law firms in this category all had well over 50 percent women associates in 2011, according to the presentation.
One firm with about 70 lawyers, Goldberg, Kohn Ltd., has 80 percent women associates. That is the highest percentage in the charts presented Tuesday.
Thompson, Coburn LLP has 76.9 percent women associates. Baker & McKenzie LLP has 66.3 percent women associates.
(More data from the tables presented Tuesday are in a sidebar to this story.)
Grayson said statistics show that within five years, "a number of those women will step away or make a transition out of law firm practice" so they won't be in the pipeline to be considered for partner.
"That's why there is such a dramatic difference between associates and partners," Grayson said.
More women started graduating from law schools in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Grayson said. By the 1980s and early 1990s, large law firms had 16 or 17 percent women partners.
But "many, many years have passed and the numbers (of women law partners) are still hovering in the same range," Grayson said. "They go up and down, but they're always hovering in the 16 to 19 percent range."
Pigott and Grayson launched the Call to Action in 2004 as co-chairwomen of the CBA's Alliance for Women in an effort to increase the number of women law partners and see more women named to all leadership positions at law firms.
Initially, the data was gathered by asking law firms and law departments to sign the Call to Action, also to pledge to reach certain goals for women, and to fill out surveys indicating the results, Pigott and Grayson said.
Beginning in 2009, the Alliance for Women and the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law Firms decided to measure the progress of women in law firms by using publicly available data from NALP. Such NALP data is available for about 65 Chicago law firms.
With the slight drop in 2010 in percent of women partners, "we're not exactly where we want to be," Grayson said.
But she said the 140 women attorneys at the event "left there with a renewed purpose and a feeling of hope that things are getting better all the time."