Law firms working to attract more women attorneys

Sharon Fisher//September 26, 2019

Law firms working to attract more women attorneys

Sharon Fisher//September 26, 2019

photo of holland & hart
Holland & Hart is one of several Idaho law firms that is working to attract more female lawyers. File photo

Idaho law firms competing for scarce talent are focusing on a particular demographic: Women. This competition is occurring across several fronts.

Mansfield Rule

In 2017, Diversity Lab – a Boulder, Colorado-based incubator intended to boost diversity and inclusion in law – created a new metric, the Mansfield Rule. Named after Arabella Mansfield, the first woman lawyer admitted to the practice of law in the United States, the Mansfield Rule measures whether women lawyers, attorneys of color and LGBTQ+ attorneys are at least 30% of the candidate pool for equity partner promotions, lateral positions, and significant leadership and governance roles.

Several Idaho law firms are considered Mansfield Certified, including Holland & Hart and Stoel Rives, out of 64 law firms achieving certification nationwide. Idaho law firm Perkins Coie is also participating in Mansfield 3.0, a standard that adds disabled attorneys.

Other Idaho law firms may join them.

Tara Malek

“We haven’t discussed it yet, but it’s not off the table at all,” said Tara Malek, a partner at Smith+Malek, which is 80% female.

Parental leave

Another way law firms compete for women is in benefits. In particular, Smith+Malek, with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Boise and Sandpoint, is offering all employees – not just women and not just attorneys – 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents, whether children are biological, adopted or foster.

Smith+ Malek is doing this for two reasons, Malek said. First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, it helps attract talent to the firm, which currently has 18 staffers – 11 of them attorneys – across its three offices, she said.

Providing generous parental leave also means attorneys – particularly women – won’t feel they have to choose between their personal life and their career, Malek said. A large portion of the population is marginalized from staying in the practice of law due to institutional barriers such as the lack of parental leave, she said.

“Before, they would drop out or put their career goals on pause,” she said.

Smith+Malek can offer such generous leave because, unlike some law firms, its attorneys work collaboratively rather than by origination.

“When a project comes in, it gets delegated to the folks with that skill set,” Malek said.

Typically, more than one attorney can handle a specific topic, so everyone will just work a little harder during the leave, she said.

Changing demographics

photo of diane minnich
Diane Minnich

Offering parental leave – which is available to both men and women – helps attract another demographic as well: younger employees. In Idaho, the average age of the Idaho state bar – that is, people who are licensed to practice law in Idaho – is over 50, and the majority are men, according to Diane Minnich, executive director of the Boise-based organization.

But among attorneys under 30 years old, 54% are female, Minnich noted. As older attorneys retire and younger ones move up, the percentage of female attorneys in Idaho will also go up, she said.

This is borne out by statistics from law schools across the country.

Nationally, women have made up more than 50% of classes since 2016, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

At Concordia University School of Law, now in its eighth year of having a law school in Idaho, 52% of the class’ 90 students are women. Concordia also has a female interim dean – Latonia Haney Keith.

At the University of Idaho College of Law, the class beginning in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 49% of the class’ 114 students are women, while 45% of the total enrollment of 314 are women.

That said, women attorneys still have a long way to go. According to the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, only 19% of equity partners at U.S. law firms are women, and only 26.4% of the general counsels of Fortune 500 companies are women.