August 2014Volume 20Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Update on the 50 best law firms for women (and the 10 best in Chicago)

In 2011, I reported on the 50 Best Law Firms for Women as determined by Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers. The 2014 results were recently published, so it seemed a good time to check in again to see what changes have or have not occurred.

According to a press release, these 50 firms are singled out for their “family friendly policies, and business and career development initiatives that help women attorneys succeed and advance in the leadership pipeline.”2 The 50 best firms demonstrate the following characteristics:

• 20% of their lawyers used full-time, flex-time arrangements

• 40% of these firms have two or more women among their top ten rainmakers

• 19% of equity partners at these firms are women (as compared to 17% nationally)

• 24-26% of the seats on important firm committees, such as the executive committee and the compensation committee, are filled by women

• 100% of the firms offer networking groups and events for women

There have been some improvements in these numbers as compared to 2011 when I last wrote about this topic. For example, the number of lawyers using full-time flex-time arrangements has doubled and there are more female attorneys in law firm governance. However, the number of female equity partners in these top 50 firms has remained flat at 19% (although it has increased from 16% when the study was first conducted in 2007). In addition, there has actually been a 1% drop in the number of female associates from 47% at the start of the study in 2007 to 46% in 2014. Also of concern is the lack of retention of women of color, who start out at 12% at the associate level, but drop to 2% at the equity partner level.3

Listed below are the ten Illinois-based firms that made the list (up from seven in 2011), as well as some of their best practices that got them on the list:


Baker & McKenzie, where female partners have access to customized coaching, global leadership training and a major women’s initiative. Moms may take advantage of 18 fully paid weeks of maternity leave, access to flex-time schedules, and $10,000 in adoption assistance.

• Female Equity Partners 18% (down from 19% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners 34% (up from 31% in 2011)

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 8%


Chapman & Cutler, which replaced its strict billable-hours tracks with “flexible hours expectations” that more directly emphasize professional development. Attorneys have access to free concierge services, wellness fairs, on-site yoga classes and fresh fruit deliveries.

• Female Equity Partners 19% (up from 18% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners 28% (up from 23% in 2011)

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 5% (down from 8% in 2011)


Jenner & Block, which boasts female attorneys as the managing partner, the COO, CFO, CTO and CMO. It offers new business development workshops and a women’s forum to engage partners.

• Female Equity Partners 15% (down from 17% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners 31%

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 6% (down from 10% in 2011)


Katten Muchin Rosenman, which allows expecting moms to take up to six months off after giving birth (with their billable-hours targets adjusted accordingly). The firm’s Work Life/Development Task Force carefully evaluates its flex programs, leave policies and training, upgrading wherever needed.

• Female Equity Partners 17% (down from 18% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners 31%

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 9% (up from 5% in 2011)


Kirkland & Ellis (new to the list since 2011), which revised its flexible scheduling policy in 2013, outlining all available alternative work options and addressing the needs of parents returning from leave.

• Female Equity Partners 14%

• Female Nonequity Partners 31%

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 3%


McDermott Will & Emery, (another newcomer to the list) where female attorneys earned 29% of all equity partner promotions in 2013 (up from 13% in 2012); and among those women promoted, 38% worked reduced hours. These women may take part in dedicated mentoring groups and coaching programs.

• Female Equity Partners 18%

• Female Nonequity Partners 37%

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 6%


Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg hosts quarterly meetings of the firm’s female attorneys at all levels to share goals and forge alliances. A formal counsel track (with fewer hours) presents an alternative to the partnership route. In 2013, 40% of women worked reduced schedules.

• Female Equity Partners 14% (down from 15% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners 33% (down from 44% in 2011)

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 15% (up from 13% in 2011)


Schiff Hardin, (also new to the list since 2011), has its leaders here assess all client teams (as well as all pitches, proposals and presentations) to make sure that diverse attorneys are well represented. An affinity group and new leadership academy accelerate the rise of women. Paid parental leave was increased to 18 weeks from 12.

• Female Equity Partners 22%

• Female Nonequity Partners 33%

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 6%


Seyfarth Shaw endorses alternative schedules, unlimited vacation days and a nonpartnership track. Work life liaisons at all sites provide guidance, and an upcoming program for new hires will address finding balance.

• Female Equity Partners 16% (up from 13% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners 22% (down from 29% in 2011)

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 8%


Sidley Austin monitored women associates on reduced schedules to ensure they kept progressing toward partnership, stepped up lateral recruiting of female partners (and tracked their participation in business opportunities) and held 135+ key networking events.

• Female Equity Partners 21% (down from 22% in 2011)

• Female Nonequity Partners NA

• Lawyers Working Reduced Hours 7%


The big picture painted by these numbers shows that while there have been some gains, most of those gains are fairly minor and some of the categories remain flat. Hence, while we celebrate the gains, we must remember there is more work to be done to ensure women have good working environments and equal opportunities for advancement. ■


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 and the International and Immigration Law Section Council.

1. “50 Best Law Firms for Women” Named by Working Mother & Flex-Time Lawyers, Honoring Best Practices for Retaining, Promoting Women Lawyers, <>. Only firms with more than 50 lawyers were included in the survey.

2. The full study may be found here: <>.

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