Blog Post

Women Leaders Are Driving Change in the 2022 Seramount Best Law Firms for Women

June 23, 2022

By Karen Kaplowitz

For 15 years, Seramount’s Best Law Firms for Women Initiative has provided law firms the same robust platform for gathering, analyzing, and benchmarking their progress in gender diversity as Seramount, now part of EAB, has offered for over 35 years to hundreds of leading companies across corporate America. Notably, more than half of the law firms honored on the 2022 Seramount Best Law Firms for Women list have been on the list for more than 10 years, which demonstrates their sustained commitment to creating more inclusive firms. 

“Our Best Law Firms for Women continue to improve in many critical areas,” said Subha V. Barry, president of Seramount. “Representation of women managing partners has increased significantly and we’ve seen progress for multicultural women lawyers at every level. Our firms recognize the importance of recruiting and retaining this important talent pool and have developed the family-friendly benefits to prove it. All of these combined are important steps toward parity.”

This year, the most striking change in the progress of gender diversity among the 2022 Seramount Best Law Firms for Women is in leadership at the top. On Seramount’s annual application, we asked law firms about the gender of their managing partner or equivalent prominent leader other than the chairperson, and the firms on the 2022 list reported a nearly 10 percent increase in the number of female managing partners or their equivalents: 43 percent in 2022 vs. 34 percent in 2021. 

Across the board, firms on the list also increased the percentages of women holding roles on key committees that make compensation and promotion decisions. For example, in 2022, 38 percent of those on firms’ management committees were women vs. 35 percent last year. For committees that decide promotions to equity partnership, 38 percent were women in 2022 compared to 34 percent in 2021.

Women’s leadership is the key theme and thread that connects the law firms on the 2022 list. Some notable examples include:

  • WilmerHale, one of only two firms on the list every year since the list’s inception in 2007, has increased the representation of women in firm leadership. In addition to Susan Murley, co-managing partner, women have prominent roles on three of the most influential firm-wide committees: 44 percent of the Management Committee, 52 percent of the Compensation Committee, and 34 percent of the Equity Partner Promotion Committee. Three of the firm’s five legal departments are chaired by women, and women make up 28 percent of the firm’s equity-only U.S. partnership.
  • At Dorsey & Whitney, the only other firm that has been on the list every year since 2007, the firm’s leadership says that the most important factor in ensuring the advancement of women in the workplace is having women leaders at the table when important decisions are being made. In 2007, Dorsey elected its first-ever woman as Managing Partner, paving the way for future women leaders. Today, 50 percent of Dorsey’s Management Committee and 35 percent of its Policy Committee are women, creating a new standard for leadership. Over the last five years, 35 percent of those elevated to equity partner and 44 percent of those elevated to income partner were women.
  • At Littler, shareholder Erin Webber began an eight-year term as Littler’s Managing Director, effective January 2021. The firm’s seven-person Management Committee, Littler’s highest governing body, is 100 percent diverse, including four women.
  • Manatt is led by CEO, Managing Partner, and Chair of Manatt’s Executive Compensation committee Donna Wilson, one of the only openly LGBTQ+ women leading an Am Law 200 firm, a first-generation college graduate, and the mother of a teenage daughter. The firm continued to prioritize the elevation of women and diverse leaders at every level of the firm, including an all-women partner class and half of its lateral partner hires also being women.
  • Kirkland & Ellis’s Women’s Leadership Initiative promotes the recruitment, retention, and advancement of Kirkland’s women attorneys and aims to develop them into leaders within their practice groups, the firm, the profession, and the community.
  • Latham & Watkins holds two Women’s Leadership Academies each year—one for senior female associates and one for female partners. These events feature tailored professional development training and opportunities for mentorship and community building. Robin Hulshizer, Partner and Vice Chair of the Diversity Leadership Committee, also notes that outside its walls, Latham is creating a strong community of women in decision-making roles through programs such as its WEB Committee’s Financial Analysis Program for female in-house lawyers. 
  • Blank Rome for six years has hosted an annual Women’s Leadership Summit (“WLS”), which has become one of the firm’s signature events, attracting top women leaders in business and law. The WLS started as an event for the firm’s women partners to connect beyond their practice groups and local offices, deepen their leadership skills, and polish their relationship-building acumen. It has expanded to include clients and friends of the firm, creating a unique opportunity for women leaders to connect, develop innovative ideas, and create meaningful and lasting relationships that build year after year.
  • Erickson Immigration Group, one of three firms joining the list for the first time and one of the largest immigration law firms in the United States, is not only 50 percent owned by multicultural women but its senior legal team, which includes Senior Managing Attorneys, Managing Attorneys, and Senior Attorneys, consists of 82 percent women and 56 percent women of color.

Firms on the 2022 list also increased the representation of multicultural women [“MCW”]. In 2022, 29 percent of women lawyers at firms on the list were MCW vs. 27 percent last year; 36 percent of women associates were MCW vs. 34 percent last year; and 18 percent of women equity partners were MCW vs. 16 percent last year. Most dramatically, 22 percent of women promoted to equity partner were MCW compared to 18 percent last year, a significant four percentage point change.     

At the same time, these increases in the percentages of MCW occurred while MCW were also leaving firms on the list in increased numbers. For example, of equity partners who left firms, 27 percent were women vs. 24 percent last year. But of the female equity partners who left, 21 percent were MCW vs. 8 percent last year, a nearly threefold increase. In exit interviews, firms reported 73 percent of the women cited their reason for leaving was “to pursue different options” and 45 percent said they had “better opportunities elsewhere.” The data clearly reflects greater mobility on the part of MCW and a legal marketplace marked by intense competition in lateral recruiting, especially for women of color.

Another important trendline for firms on the 2022 list is increased investment in sponsorship programs.

An impressive 80 percent of firms on the list report formal sponsorship programs, an 8 percent increase from last year. For example, Ogletree Deakins reports that its most successful program to advance women in the workplace is the Ogletree Deakins Women’s Initiative (ODWIN) Sponsorship Program that provides tools and opportunities for women shareholders to help them advance to equity shareholder status. Paired with equity shareholders, the participants gain support, exposure, business development opportunities, and career guidance.

Littler recently created a new initiative, Breaking Through, to double the number of attorneys of color, women, and LGBTQ+ shareholders in the top quartile of the firm’s compensation system within five years. The firm’s strategies include business development, leadership, and other training programs that provide the skills and resources needed for career growth. An additional focus is to further expand access to client opportunities, such as ensuring that women and diverse attorneys are considered for lead roles on new client matters and in transition/succession plans for existing client relationships.

Seramount also notes increased support for parents and caregivers this year. The average fully paid parental leave for associates increased from 13 weeks to 16 weeks this year. Firms also adopted major increases in fertility benefits: 67 percent cover in vitro vs. 52 percent last year; 53 percent cover egg freezing vs. 42 percent last year.

Proskauer, a first-time winner, emphasized that supporting its lawyers’ needs at key stages of their personal lives is critical to the firm’s talent management strategy. In 2016, Proskauer launched an innovative program to ease the transition of lawyers returning from caregiver leave. CaRe, or Caregiver Return, allows lawyers to return on a 75 percent schedule and receive 100 percent of their pre-leave compensation for the first six months of their return. Enrollment is automatic, and CaRe participants remain on the promotion track.

As one participant described her experience, “Everyone [at the firm] has always been understanding about the new demands working moms face when coming back from leave and how that impacts your availability. The CaRe program took a huge weight off my shoulders in terms of the pressure I felt to work the same number of hours. Having a relaxed expectation was a huge relief.”

Similarly, new list member Erickson Immigration Law encourages parents returning to work after welcoming a child to design a work schedule that suits them, often including phased returns to full time and flexible scheduling.

Seramount salutes the law firms on the 2022 Best Law Firms for Women list. These firms continue to utilize Seramount’s rigorous data analytics and metrics tools to guide their diversity journeys.  Seramount president Subha V. Barry asks the obvious question: “With increased pressure from clients and competition for talent, will women leaders help law firms accelerate the pace of change for gender and racial diversity? Seramount is proud to provide data through the Best Law Firms for Women survey to help the growing ranks of women leaders understand what to expect and what will be expected of them.”

Karen Kaplowitz, a longtime advocate for women in the legal profession, has been a senior advisor to the Seramount Best Law Firms for Women Initiative since 2016. Kaplowitz, a business development strategist and coach, has been named one of Lawdragon’s Global 100 Leading Consultants and Strategists to the Legal Profession since 2018.