Why talk about power?
Power is part of leadership. Women constitute just 15 percent of equity partners and hold only 20 percent of the seats on the highest governing committees at the nation's top law firms, according to the "Report of the Seventh Annual National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms," a forthcoming study by The National Association of Women Lawyers and The NAWL Foundation.
Now, more than ever, as legal organizations adopt new strategies to deal with a rapidly changing profession, women's voices are desperately needed at the table. Studies by Catalyst and other organizations show increased profitability and lowered risk with three or more women on corporate boards.
Power impacts success and satisfaction. The reality is that women succeed within their organizations when their ambition is fed, their contributions valued and their work-life balance manageable. Challenging assignments, equitable compensation and access to flexible schedules all flow from having power.
Power creates choices. Equity partners working part time experience less stigma than fixed income partners, according to a September 2009 study for the Project for Attorney Retention, "Reduced Hours, Full Success: Part-Time Partners in U.S. Law Firms." The power derived from having a book of business gave the part-time partners the ability to take lead roles in their cases, to structure the work on their cases in a manner consistent with their schedules and the work, to choose the attorneys with whom they worked and to negotiate for proportional compensation.
Power affects pay. The 2012 Partner Compensation Survey by Major, Lindsey & Africa found that the gap between women partners' compensation and their male counterparts' has grown to 46 percent. Male partners now earn an average of $734,000, while female partners are paid $497,000. Importantly, while origination fees may account for some of the disparity, a gap persists even when the findings are adjusted for comparable books of business.
A potential reason for this disparity may be inequities in the credit process, according to "New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling? The Impact of Law Firm Compensation Systems on Women," a July 2010 study for The Project for Attorney Retention and Minority Corporate Counsel Association. In that study, 55 percent of women partners reported being denied their "fair share" of credit; nearly 30 percent reported intimidation, threats or bullying over credit; and 39 percent reported dissatisfaction with how disputes over credit were resolved.
Getting a critical number of women in positions to influence compensation decisions is crucial to eliminating real and perceived inequities in the compensation process.
Notably, the fifth NAWL annual survey on retention and promotion found that the few large firms that had three or more women in their top 10 rainmakers had eliminated the gap in male/female compensation.
PATH TO POWER