April 23, 2014

Sector Portrait: Law

Florida's business courts

Attorneys laud progress in the system but see room for improvement.

So Long, Partner

» Despite retention initiatives, women still represent less than 20% of law firm partners.

Mindy Mora
Mindy Mora
Mindy Mora puts in 12 hours at the office and then a few more after dinner. It’s a lifestyle she says most law firm partners consider the norm.

In Florida’s competitive legal industry, pressure to meet the quota for billable hours, develop new business and help clients who want instant responses is creating increasing demands on lawyers. “Being a partner at a law firm is not a 9-to-5 job,” Mora says.

Mora’s lifestyle, even with the glamour of a partner title at Bilzin Sumberg in Miami and a six-figure salary, is one some female associates have shunned. “They want to be able to have a family and enjoy their family,” Mora says.

Susan Healy
Susan Healy
The demands of partnership are one reason that Eleanor Barnett left Mora’s firm to practice at Heller Waldman in Coconut Grove, which has seven attorneys. Barnett says while the client demands might be the same, she doesn’t have the internal meetings and politicking that can be time-consuming. “That can make a big difference for women who are trying to balance motherhood and a busy litigation practice.”

The trend toward women lawyers moving on to practice outside of big firms has some managing partners concerned enough that they are ramping up retention and advancement efforts. Large firms such as Holland & Knight, Carlton Fields and Hunton & Williams have initiatives to help advance their rising stars to partner and tackle the higher female attrition rates.

For now, the numbers are sobering: Women make up half of law school graduates and about 45% of private practice associates. But they only represent 19.2% of law firm partners, according to an American Bar Association survey.

“Unfortunately that number has stayed relatively the same for the past 20 years,” says Susan Healy, partner at Vernon Healy in Naples and president of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers. “Regardless of initiatives and the high-profile advances women attorneys have made, we aren’t seeing it filtered the way it should.”

Nationally, efforts are under way to lobby firms to put more women on their compensation committees, where major strategy and partnership decisions are made.

“The initiatives have to go deeper than they are now,” Healy says. “We have to give women leadership skills to achieve at all levels.”

Tags: Politics & Law

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