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Women Lawyers Still Working to Equal Representation on the Path to Partnership

The split between the number of men and women entering the legal profession has balanced, but a partnership gap remains.

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The New York City Bar’s most recent Diversity Benchmarking Study released in October 2012 revealed that, across the spectrum of signatory firms, women attorneys registered gains across several leadership roles from 2011, rising from 17.5% to 18.3% of partners, 17.1% to 17.7% of management committee members and 15.4% to 17.3% of practice group heads. With a median size of nine management committee members at signatory firms, the median number of women was one.

Karen Artz Ash, partner and national co-chairperson of the intellectual property department at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, says that it is important to acknowledge that now, more than any time in the past, women attorneys hold positions of power and authority at companies and law firms, especially if the aforementioned statistics are to be counteracted.

“Women attorneys are beginning to wield greater power over business, the direction that law firms take, and the manner in which law firms handle business,” Artz Ash says. “Also of interest is that with women in these stronger in-house legal positions, [they] will pave the way for many women attorneys to return to law firms later in their career with the potential to bring in the business of their former employers. As such, I would expect that the ‘trend’ will slowly reverse itself.”

In addition, some women attorneys are finding ways to channel their legal expertise in specialized ways. Following a distinguished 28-year career as a Manhattan prosecutor, Lisa M. Friel joined T&M Protection Resources in October 2011 as Vice President of the Sexual Misconduct Consulting & Investigations division. Able to leverage her experience as Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Friel focuses on both proactive and reactive work in the areas of sexual misconduct.

“My role is very rewarding,” Friel says. “I do proactive work — writing policies, conducting trainings, and weighing in on needed changes to keep people safe and in my reactive work, investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, I get to use all my experience and expertise to really get to the bottom of things.”

As a partner of her firm, Artz Ash says that she is proud to still love her work and values her strong client relationships. But she maintains that her family is still her greatest source of satisfaction.

“I am most proud of the fact that I have accomplished having a strong career with balancing a wonderful family,” she says.

Artz Ash believes that law firms have made tremendous advances in accommodating the responsibilities that families must juggle. Maternity leave, paternity leave, and off-site work accommodations are now more commonplace.

“Most large firms make efforts to encourage women in leadership positions and do not penalize them for the balancing act,” she says. “This, of course, still needs to improve but frankly, whatever the number of women in leadership positions and partnership, there is no question that there are better opportunities for women in large law firms than ever before.”


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