While opinions differ as to the deference to be accorded recognition from varying sources, one of the most highly sought-after and prized third-party endorsements is recognition by Chambers and Partners. The legal guide, Chambers USA, is published yearly by Chambers and Partners and is considered a premier guide to the legal profession. Each year Chambers conducts in-depth research and interviews with clients and attorneys throughout the United States to identify top lawyers in various practice areas. Inclusion in Chambers’ guide is based on the results of this research process and findings and cannot be initiated or purchased by a firm or lawyer.
A critical examination of the statistical data related to Chambers’ recognition raises the question—are all of the best lawyers receiving the recognition they deserve? Based upon our evaluation of 2008 Chambers’ data related to women lawyers, we believe the answer likely is no. For example, of the top Am Law 25 law firms, the overall average of partners listed in Chambers is 26 percent, with a range from 5 percent to 48 percent depending upon the firm. Of those numbers, the overall average percentage of partners listed in Chambers who are female is 14 percent. As to the litigation categories, the average of women lawyers listed is 1 percent with a number of firms having no women partners so recognized. The recently released 2009 data is similar.
Challenges faced by accomplished women lawyers in obtaining such recognition, coupled with the above statistics, prompted a coalition of women’s bar associations to come together to assess how best we might promote more women lawyers listed in the legal guide, Chambers USA. This initiative was led by the: National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations; ABA Commission on Women; National Association of Women Lawyers; Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia; Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women; and, the Chicago Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law Firms. This working group communicated with Chambers’ leadership to: identify our concerns over the relatively small number of women lawyers so recognized; better understand the research process and the overall protocol followed for identification of a lawyer in Chambers USA; and, establish a dialogue with Chambers for continuing communication on this important initiative. Chambers’ leadership has been open and responsive in addressing issues identified by this working group.
Through our communications with Chambers, we gained the following insights regarding the research process:
• Role of Law Firms. Law firms play an important role in the information developed and submitted to Chambers. Moreover, law firms manage these submissions in various ways with some practices more helpful in advancing women and other diverse attorneys than others.
• Practice Group Focus. Chambers’ research appears directed to practice groups versus individual attorneys. This provides an opportunity for law firms to make sure Chambers’ submissions highlight the work led by diverse attorneys.
• Client Feedback. If you recommend a client as a possible reference, you need to communicate with clients and advise them of the critical importance of communicating with Chambers (including the return of phone calls to Chambers’ research assistants) and providing positive client feedback.
• Individual Applications. We need to continue to emphasize the importance of women attorneys completing individual applications and taking the initiative to ensure the same are incorporated into a law firm’s submission.
• Diversity Considerations. Chambers confirms that its research of attorneys is gender and color blind and that individual attorney recognition results from a combination of client recommendations, peer comments and feedback, overall sophistication of the practice area coupled with the summary materials submitted by law firms. It is essential that law firm submissions reflect the achievements of all attorneys.
The working group developed a two prong approach moving forward: raise awareness among women attorneys of the importance of submitting materials to Chambers and working with their law firms to do so; and, continue to monitor the progress of women recognized by Chambers. Among other efforts, the working group prepared and distributed to its memberships two new guidance documents: 1) Chambers and Partners’ Recommendations and Best Practices for Chambers USA 2010 Application—information provided by Chambers’ leadership; and, 2) Additional Guidance and Insights for Women Attorneys Applying for Chambers USA 2010—insights gained from 2009 communications with Chambers. These documents are available on the Web sites of many women’s bar associations or may be obtained upon request by contacting Lynn Grayson at.
The collective objective of this working group is to see material improvement in the number of successful women attorneys receiving the recognition they deserve in Chambers USA 2010. We will continue to monitor the progress of women lawyers recognized by Chambers and we hope these joint efforts will result in a more positive outcome. ■