Member Groups

The Catalyst
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

November 2011, vol. 17, no. 2

50 best law firms for women

The September 2011 issue of Working Mother contains the annual NAFE/Flex-Time Lawyers list of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women. According to Working Mother, these 50 firms exemplify best practices when it comes to supporting and advancing talented female lawyers. At these firms, women get top assignments, learn to become rainmakers, fill senior leadership positions and have a have a better work life balance.1

All of the law firms on the list have reduced hour policies, and 78 percent offer full-time telecommuting. Ninety percent offer management and leadership training and 80 percent offer mentoring circles. Seventy-eight percent offer backup childcare and 62 percent offer subsidized in-home backup childcare.

The study notes, however, that representation of women remains weak at higher levels, although averages at Best Law Firms (e.g., Equity Partners, 19%) exceed national ones (e.g., Equity Partners, 15%).

Women also continue to show low representation at the leadership level, although five of the Best Law Firms have female Chairpersons, up from one in 2007. Usage rates for alternative work arrangements remain low (e.g., Reduced Hours, 10%), although the Best Law Firms’ averages also exceed national averages (e.g., Reduced Hours, 6%).

Seven Illinois firms made the list, including:

Baker & McKenzie, which is touted for its flexible work schedule policies. It also is noted for the fact that the 2011 partner class for its North American offices is 80% female.

Female Attorneys 37%

Female Equity Partners 19%

Female Nonequity Partners 31%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 11%

Chapman & Cutler, which won praise for its recent revamping of its mentoring program with cross-practice-area and cross-gender mentoring groups that ensure every female associate has access to the firm’s rainmakers and policymakers. In 2010, the firm also revamped the associate bonus system, to reward not just billable-hour productivity but also contributions to recruiting, training and leadership.

Female Attorneys 31%

Female Equity Partners 18%

Female Nonequity Partners 23%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 8%

Jenner & Block, which is commended for providing 18 weeks of paid maternity leave for associates and 21 weeks for partners. It is also one of the few large firms with a female managing partner and is at the forefront of having women attorneys in leadership positions. In 2010, the firm promoted six women associates to partner—50% of the new partner class. Women also made up 51% of the firm’s 2011 summer class.

Female Attorneys 33%

Female Equity Partners 17%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 10%

Katten, Muchin & Rosenman, which has women in leadership roles at all levels of the firm. The firm provides its women attorneys with specialized business development training, including one-on-one coaching for select high-potential women partners. To promote work life balance, all attorneys can pursue a flexible schedule, including those moving toward income or equity partnership. For primary caregivers returning from maternity or adoption leave, the firm offers a 60/60/80 program to ease the transition back to work. The three-month program consists of a 60% work schedule for the first two months and an 80% work schedule for the third month. Participants’ billable-hours targets are reduced to reflect the reduced work schedule.

Female attorneys 43%

Female Equity Partners 18%

Female Nonequity Partners 31%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 5%

Neil, Gerber & Eisenberg, which received recognition for its reduced-hours option. By 2010, 35% of women attorneys and 43% of women partners were taking advantage of the reduced-hours option. The firm also created Women Attorney Networking Teams in 2010 to provide women lawyers with increased opportunities to network internally and build meaningful personal and mentoring relationships with colleagues. Women leaders abound in the firm: half of the firm’s committees are chaired or co-chaired by women, and almost 20% of practice group leaders are women.

Female Attorneys 33%

Female Equity Partners 15%

Female Nonequity Partners 44%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 13%

Seyfarth Shaw, which has an innovative 24-hour national help desk to make telecommuting easier. The firm also wins praise for a “culture of flexibility,” which includes prorated annualized hours and unlimited vacation days and sick days. In 2010, 75% of partner promotions were women. Two of the firm’s five national practice departments are led by women and women attorneys hold leadership roles on the firm’s most influential committees: executive, compensation, hiring and administrative. The firm also recognizes that not all talented lawyers want to be partners and has developed a nonpartnership track to provide more flexibility in career options, including a progressive alternative schedule program.

Female Attorneys 36%

Female Equity Partners 13%

Female Nonequity Partners 29%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 8%

Sidley Austin, which was recognized for the fact that 20% of women lawyers and 24% of women partners worked on a reduced-hours basis in 2010 while remaining on partnership track, retaining all benefits and maintaining bonus eligibility. The firm demonstrates its commitment to gender diversity by requiring partners to detail in their annual achievement reports their personal efforts to strengthen the firm’s gender diversity. These assessments contribute to partner compensation decisions. Half the 2010 partnership class in the United States were women.

Female Attorneys 34%

Female Equity Partners 22%

Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 7%


Cindy G. Buys is a Professor of Law at the Southern Illinois University School of Law and a member of the ISBA Women and the Law Committee.

1. An Executive Summary of the report may be found at