Making In-Roads to Corporate General Counsel Positions: It's Only a Matter of Time?
42 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2007 Last revised: 7 Nov 2007
There were 40,018 law graduates in the class of 2004, of which almost half were women. Many of these women, equipped with exceptional educational credentials, predictably have high hopes of ascending to the upper hierarchy of law practice. Unfortunately, their hopes of obtaining the fabled "corner office" may be dashed when they note who actually practices at the highest levels in those law firms and corporations. Indeed, by the end of 2004, women lawyers would only account for seventeen percent of law partners at the nation's major law firms and fourteen percent of the Fortune 500 general counsel.
This article focuses on the under-representation of women lawyers practicing in the upper levels of Fortune 500 corporations. Because law firm partners and senior associates are essential participants in any corporation's applicant pool for senior-level in-house positions, this article also addresses the promotional barriers encountered by women lawyers who practice at major law firms. To that end, Part I of this Article summarizes the reasons for the paucity of senior-level women lawyers at law firms and explains why corporations should be concerned. Part II proffers the beneficial impact of improving gender diversity throughout the upper ranks of corporate legal departments. In Part III, this article examines the assertion that in-house legal practice is better than law firm practice for women lawyers by questioning whether corporate legal departments do, in fact, provide better advancement opportunities, and work-life balance than law firms - particularly in light of the fact that those law firm pathologies have begun creeping in-house in recent years. Finally, Part IV provides solutions that may be implemented to address the limited gender diversity in the upper ranks of law practice at corporations.
Keywords: corporate governance, gender, diversity, women and the law, women, general counsel, legal employment, groupthink
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