The legal glass ceiling is still very much intact, but women can crack it with this six-point plan
In large law firms, the numbers tell a familiar tale. Women have been close to the majority of law students for over two decades and have outnumbered male law school graduates every year since 2016. Associate classes at the largest law firms have similarly been at or near gender parity for more than two decades. And yet the percentage of women equity partners at large law firms has grown only seven percent in that same time – from 15% to 22%.
While the pace is frustratingly slow, there are concrete steps women can take to hasten the breakthrough. First is to think hard about what success means to you and why; too many young lawyers strive for the equity partner role on automatic pilot, without fully considering the time commitment and combination of business development skills and legal acumen necessary to succeed in that role.
Second, if equity partnership is truly your goal, be vocal about it. Make sure people in your orbit know that you see yourself as equity partner material and are willing to work hard to get there. Unfortunately, explicit and implicit biases still cause many people to assume that women lawyers do not have ambition for the highest roles. Dispel that myth every chance you get.
Third, set actionable goals and make a plan from the start of your career. At every step, remember that developing people skills and fostering business connections are just as important as honing your talents.
Fourth, it is important to identify mentors that can help you grow, but equally if not more important are sponsors – men and women who have power within your organization and are willing to use it to promote your career. Do everything you can to earn the trust and confidence of those sponsors and it will come back to you in spades.
Fifth, be relentless in building relationships with potential sources of business – stay in touch with your contacts on a regular basis and look for ways to help promote their careers. And don’t be afraid to ask them to do the same for you. Ask for their business, knowing that you are really offering to help them solve problems and achieve business objectives.
Sixth, keep your finger on the pulse of the industry in which you practice and remain ready to evolve as legal practice areas grow and shrink. Those who recognize emerging areas of the law and stretch to meet them are often the most successful at achieving and thriving in equity partnership. Last but not least, remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint!