The percentage of women attorneys working in the Pennsylvania offices of the state's 100 largest law firms has inched up slightly from 2011 to 2012. But the numbers are still lower than some expected.
Women make up smaller percentages of attorney headcount -- something even more apparent at the equity partner level -- than their male counterparts, despite years of statistics that show women graduating from law school in numbers equal to or just slightly lower than men.
That national phenomenon plays out at Pennsylvania's 100 largest firms as well.
While the Intelligencer's numbers account for only Pennsylvania offices and some firms may have more women working in other locations around the globe, for many of the 100 largest firms, their only presence is in the Keystone State, providing a good snapshot of the number of women lawyers in Pennsylvania firms.
In looking at the 95 firms for which gender data was available, 28.5 percent of lawyers working in the Pennsylvania offices of the state's largest firms are women. That figure is up from 27.8 percent in 2011.
In looking at the percentage of lawyers in Pennsylvania offices who are female partners, the figure drops to nearly 9.9 percent.
Lisa M. Benzie of Angino & Rovner in Harrisburg, co-chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession, said it's good to see the percentage of female attorneys increase, and noted that the slight increase may have to do with the fact that nearly all law firms have some sort of women's initiative in place.
Such initiatives have been around for decades in some firms, but Ms. Benzie said they are becoming more concrete than they were in the past.
But while the overall percentage improved, Ms. Benzie said it's important to look at the breakdown of partners, associates, staff associates and of counsel. If most of the women are moving into the staff associate or nonequity partner role, the profession needs to look at whether that was by choice or whether the doors are not open to higher-level positions.
Ms. Benzie said the women's share of the profession, 28.5 percent, is lower than what she would hope for the profession given women had long been graduating from law school at equal rates to men, but she said it is probably close to where the numbers have been for the last decade. The concern is that some expect the number of women graduating from law school to plateau or fall in the coming years.
The two firms that top the list both happen to be employment law boutiques.
Since 2006, Rubin Fortunato & Harbison has come in first or second on our ranking of firms based on the percentage of full-time women attorneys in Pennsylvania. This year, the 42-lawyer firm topped our list with nearly 52 percent of its attorneys being women. Of the 42 lawyers in the firm, which only has offices in Pennsylvania, 11 are partners, 10 associates and one is of counsel.
Littler Mendelson, an international labor and employment boutique with Pennsylvania offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, ranked second this year. The firm has 50 full-time attorneys in Pennsylvania and 52 percent of those are women. There are 11 female partners, 14 associates and one of counsel. The firm also has female leadership locally, with Kristine Grady Derewicz serving as managing shareholder of the Philadelphia office.
Rubin Fortunato shareholder Michael J. Fortunato said the firm doesn't intentionally have a high percentage of female lawyers. He said the firm hires who it believes are the most talented attorneys to handle client matters.
"I would like to think that considering the critical mass of female attorneys that we have ... we offer a balanced approach to practicing law because we have a critical mass and everybody's viewpoint is represented," Mr. Fortunato said.
Ms. Derewicz said Littler Mendelson has a core contingent of women who have seniority in the firm and who have been very successful both professionally and personally. "When you have people who have demonstrated success, it's much easier to recruit young women," she said.
Overall, the size of the firm seems to have little to do with the percentage of women within it.