The New York City Bar Women Lawyers Committee has put together a “Cheat Sheet”for women lawyers (or law students) interviewing legal employers or seeking to evaluate a current employer’s commitment to women.
Geared toward gender issues, obviously, the Cheat Sheet is largely applicable for evaluating any diversity issue. It’s an interesting document, not least because of its comprehensiveness. The 9-page document includes questions on the “six key indicia of an employer’s commitment to women’s retention and advancement,” including “(a) statistical and background information, (b) partnership and advancement, (c) leadership and accountability, (d) business development and networking, (e) workplace flexibility (including time management and work/life balance), and (f) mentoring,” and also includes recommendations for law firms and law schools.
In addition to the Cheat Sheet, the Committee’s website includes an interesting video documentary entitled Changing Lives: Pioneering New York Women Attorneys and a report on the Best Practices for the Hiring, Training, Retention and Advancement of Women Attorneys.
It’s been about a year now since the New York Times published its article “Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms,” citing a NALP study showing that only 17% of big law partners were women in 2005, a small gain from 1995, when 13% of partners were women. (For a somewhat depressing follow-up, visit this page, which offers subscriber-only links to articles that address mandatory retirement for older lawyers, ask why African-American lawyers are less successful at major firms than their white counterparts, and tout a client-initiated diversity push. The abstracts give the flavor.)
I appreciate the Cheat Sheet because it provides questions that any lawyers/law student can ask, perhaps at carefully-selected times, or to which they may determine answers through observation. Although having the questions doesn’t by any means guarantee a smooth path for women or any other group (middle-aged or younger white men included), it does level the playing field by granting some information about the likely expectations and biases of the employer as exhibited through current behavior. And, really, I’m not sure it’s possible to ask for much more than that under current circumstances. Perhaps the knowledge gained will assist individuals in creating change in law firm partnership ranks.