Friday, May 15, 2009

 

Highlights from the Report on NJ Women Lawyers

Joan and Cynthia of PAR co-authored Legal Talent at the Crossroads: Why New Jersey Women Lawyers Leave the Law Firms and Why They Choose to Stay. The report is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Here are a few:

While other studies have documented that women leave firms that don't have good flexible work programs, this study goes a step further and documents that flexible work programs are a key factor in their search for their next position -- and that many find what they are looking for with their new employer. The take-away for law firms is that effective, non-stigmatized flexible work programs are not "perks" but rather are recruiting and retention tools that will increase their ranks of women lawyers.

This study also documents the advantage many male attorneys have: someone else who takes care of their family-related obligations, which allows them to focus more and for longer hours on their careers. (As Deborah Rhode says, "If women aren't running the world, it is probably because men aren't running the vacuum cleaners.") The women lawyers who participated in the study frequently noted that this imbalance gave their male counterparts a leg up in the race to partnership, and contributed to a lack of understanding on the part of older male partners of the women lawyers' work/life balance struggles.

Another interesting feature of the study was its focus, through interviews, on the factors that helped some senior women partners stay and succeed in their law firms. Most of the women noted that hard work alone is not enough because of the obstacles women lawyers face in their careers. Some of the factors that helped them to succeed were role models and mentors, supportive partners or spouses at home who did a significant amount of family-related work, and law firms that supported work/life balance without stigma. Of particular use to younger women lawyers, the report contains a lengthy section of advice from the successful senior women.

The report concludes with detailed best practices for law firms that want to retain and advance their women lawyers. In addition to specific steps for implementing a non-stigmatized flexible work program, the best practices include reviewing assignment and evaluation systems to eliminate hidden gender bias, making promotion criteria transparent, ensuring that women are not socially isolated within their firms, creating business development opportunities for women, and reducing gender bias throughout the law firm.

This is an important report, one that is worth reading and passing along to your colleagues. As always, PAR is interested in hearing your reactions.

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