Mollie and I were interviewed a couple of weeks ago for an article in Missouri Lawyers Media about the falling numbers of women ascending to partnership in law firms in the state.  And I want to dig a little deeper into our observations.

According to the article, there was a precipitous drop in new partners in Missouri in 2023, and the vast majority of those losses were amongst women lawyers.  Only 28% of the 135 new partners in Missouri law firms were women.  Taking a dive into five years of partnership data, the author notes a downward trend (“women comprised 41% of new partners in 2019, 36% in 2020 and 2021, 39% in 2022 and now 28%…”) in women partners in Missouri law firms.  

Why is that?  

I’m happy to make a laundry list of reasons Mollie and I articulated in the article I hope you’ll read, but at the end of the day I believe it’s because law firms don’t value the contributions of women.  I don’t think this is just a law firm problem, as society has been trying to address this issue for the past few generations, and while we have come a really long way in our march to gender equity, we aren’t there yet.

These numbers don’t lie.  Women aren’t making partner.  

If we look at each individual woman who didn’t make partner because she opted out or because the firm passed her over, we’ll see a myriad of reasons.  She’s a mom juggling a gazillion things.  She spent more time recruiting, mentoring and training associates and less time billing hours.  She looked at the demands put on partners and decided to go in-house.  She didn’t have the key client and leadership relationships that would have pulled her into the partnership.  She just didn’t have what it takes to thrive in a system that was built and still continues on without women in mind.  

Beyond a sharp and analytical mind, women bring so much to our organizations.  We have a work ethic that cannot be compared.  We are efficient.  We can juggle a dozen tasks at once and do most of them well.  We get shit done!  

Because we don’t have a choice.  We have been trained to put everyone else’s needs first.  Clients, partners, associates who are struggling, the secretary who lost her husband, our own husbands and children and families.  We aren’t putting our masks on first.  And it’s burning us out, taking us down and reflecting in the numbers of women making partner in Missouri.

I will see women being valued in law firms when all contributions to the firm are counted equally as billable hours.  All the time spent recruiting, mentoring, training, participating in DEIB, developing business, producing excellent work and creating the kind of culture where everyone can thrive.  When we can value the contributions of all our lawyers and not just the ones who bill the clients the most, that’s when we’ll be stepping ever closer to the equity we all seek. 

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