I work at a law firm that did something extraordinary last month: it added a woman’s name to the door.
When the firm announced this name change, I immediately recognized its significance for the female name partner. This distinction would raise her profile and signal to those outside the firm what those of us inside the firm already knew – that her strong leadership and outstanding client services made her invaluable to the firm. It took further reflection to realize the significance of this name change for me: it made me unique among my classmates. I can’t think of anyone in my recently-launched law school class who goes to work at a firm with a woman’s name on the door.
This realization initially surprised me, but a little research confirmed what I suspected: female name partners are few and far between. Their numbers are vanishingly small among large nationwide firms. When Kathleen Sullivan added her name to the door at Quinn Emanuel in 2010, the American Lawyer declared her the first woman to achieve that milestone in BigLaw. Given that only 17% of equity partners at these firms are women, and an even smaller percentage serve in key leadership roles such as managing partner, it should have come as no surprise that few women in my profession attain the status of name partner.
And that’s a shame, considering what the name change means to me and what I imagine it means to my clients. I feel a tremendous amount of pride to work at a firm where women can and do achieve the highest levels of leadership – a firm that identifies and cultivates talent in its attorneys regardless of their gender. I suspect that my clients – many of them women facing discrimination and harassment that prevent or stall their advancement within their organizations – feel this sense of pride as well, knowing they are represented by a firm that practices the values of equality and diversity for which it zealously advocates on their behalves.
The legal profession has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality in its ranks. I hope it’s not long before many of my law school classmates work at firms led and managed by women and join me in feeling emboldened by the possibilities every time they pass through doors etched with the name of a woman.