While women are almost half of the U.S. labor force, they comprise less than 5% of CEOs and less than 10% of top earners in the S&P 500; and for women of color are nearly invisible on both S&P 500 boards and Fortune 500 boards.

Catalyst reports that today, women still get offered fewer of the high visibility, mission-critical roles and experiences that are important to reaching the highest levels of leadership.

When it comes to law firms the numbers are also grim, but they don’t start out that way.

Half – if not more than half – of all law school classes are composed of women.

So men and women enter law firms in almost equal numbers, but then something happens, and the men keep rising and the women become flat or decline, and they wind up leaving their firms according to research by legal intelligence leader Leopard Solutions.

We know that there are a lot of reasons why this happens, including the fact that women are being asked to do more, they have family responsibilities, they’re looking for a complete change since the pandemic and they’re not necessarily always getting the support that they need from their firms in order to succeed.

So why are women leaving the practice of law today? And why aren’t women aren’t making partner like men are making partner in the legal industry today?

Women are leaving the practice of law completely today in higher numbers than ever before and pursuing careers outside the law.

Leopard Solutions is conducting a survey on this and looking for input on what is motivating women to leave their legal careers. If you fall into this category, take the survey here.

So what can law firms do to better support their women lawyers?

Firms help them succeed by:

  • Supporting professional development in meaningful ways
  • Providing growth opportunities and a clear path to leadership roles
  • Speaking of leadership, don’t wait to promote women to leadership roles
  • Giving them challenging work with support and guidance
  • Providing real mentoring opportunities
  • Create flexible work arrangements that work for their lives
  • Make a deliberate investment to help women colleagues
  • Model inclusive leadership behaviors
  • Empower employees to negotiate their roles.
  • Continue to innovate, long after the pandemic is over
  • Recognize sponsorship is something that anyone can do, including and especially, men who can take powerful actions too.
  • Carefully and humbly listen to women colleagues, which can help them feel more included.
  • See beyond the traditional flat law firm model
  • Put your people first every day
  • Support women whether they decide to stay at your firm

I always say the lifecycle of your lawyers is far more than just the tenure at which they are at your firm. It continues on long after they leave, so it’s important to also think about the fact that you want to maintain close ties to your associates once they leave your firm, which you can do through a robust alumni relations program.

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) define how, where, and when employees’ work, allowing them to best manage their career and personal priorities.

According to Catalyst, once seen as an employee benefit or an accommodation for caregivers (primarily women), flexible work arrangements are now an effective tool for organizations to attract top talent as well as a cost-savings measure to reduce turnover, productivity and absenteeism.

Sponsorship is important to ensuring that women have champions at their firms. These individuals – often men – help give them visibility, talk about their accomplishments behind closed doors and promote them for stretch opportunities.

Some firms have embraced FWAs as a result of the pandemic but are trying to roll them back to go back to “normal,” which is a huge mistake to recruit and retain women lawyers today.

Leopard Solutions reported in its recent State of the Industry Report that in 2021, there were a lot of women who were promoted to counsel.

This could be in part because law firms are “parking” them somewhere because they can’t stay an associate forever and their compensation increases as a counsel. These women aren’t rising to partner, so there may be an alternate career path they want to pursue, or it may mean they want to do something else. The reality is that not everyone wants to make partner anymore.

Earning a law degree or even practicing law isn’t necessarily because the end goal is to become a law firm partner.

There are a lot of options for women lawyers to pursue today and much of this can be attributed to the Great Resignation – a time period in which people are saying “I want to do something different, I want to do it differently, I want more” and employers have no other choice but to listen and give employees what they want.

To retain lawyers today, law firms need to implement systemic change (listen to your people on what they want and don’t force them to come back into the office every day if its unnecessary and they are unwilling) and continue that change long after the Great Resignation is over.

Even if you can get people in the door, you have to keep them and you do that by actually being an authentic, innovative workplace.

Employers – not just law firms – have an opportunity and responsibility to be more intentional about hiring and retention practices of all of its people today. This is what will separate the good companies from the great.

As Catalyst so perfectly puts it, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Cultivating female leaders and supporting your women is vital for their success.

Reach out to me or to Leopard Solutions if you would like to talk about how research and data can strategically help you with your talent management and legal intelligence needs.

Here’s more about this topic in this short video: