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Monday, April 14, 2008

Women law firm leaders still sparse, why?

I've often read that the reason women aren't in the top jobs in Corporate America is because they don't want them. But I once again wonder about that assertion after reading today's National Law Journal.

I have watched law firms become much more flexible with their female lawyers. I see them making more female partners. Yet, the article says only small percentage of women are at the pinnacle of law firms across the country, and some recent departures do not bode well for the advancement of women in the profession. What wouldn't a woman want the most power position at her place of work?

Apparently, managing a multipartner law firm is a job few lawyers want, regardless of gender. "The pool of lawyers who want to run a law firm is relatively small, but the pool of women lawyers eager to take on the tasks is even smaller, said Valerie Ford Jacob, co-managing partner of 684-attorney Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in New York.

Here's what makes chair of a law firm unappealing, Jacob says: Extensive travel to far-flung offices, the constant demands of business development and, in some cases, the need to maintain a practice with key clients while dealing with managerial issues.

But the article goes on to give all kinds of other explanations for turnover at the top: A male partner asserted that women don't want to be chairs because those in the job perform a housekeeping function within law firms — something women are not keen to do. A female partner suggested fewer women are in the right leadership roles to ascend to the top --either because of balance issues or law firm politics.

I suspect there are a combination of reasons. But I encourage the women who want the top job to speak up and say they want it, get the word out that they would do the job whatever it takes and lobby for it. It's what the men do. Am I naive in thinking that's all it would take?

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