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Law firm diversity in SD slowly increasing

The number of female partners and those in leadership positions in San Diego law firms has increased, but only modestly, according to a recent survey by Lawyers Club of San Diego.

Approximately 25 percent of the region's law firm partners were women last year, an increase of 4 percent from 2011, as reported by the Lawyers Club's 21st annual Equality Survey.

The total number of female attorneys also increased, from 34 percent to 36 percent. However, those numbers are little changed from 2007, when women accounted for 22 percent of the partners in San Diego and 34 percent of the attorneys overall.

"What doesn't make sense is that the same, if not more, number of women are graduating from law school as men, so it’s not like we don’t have enough women that are attorneys," said Maggie Schroedter, chair of the Lawyers Club's equality and action committee. "Although we're excited to see that type of increase, we're going to continue to publicize this issue and work toward promoting these issues in the San Diego legal community."

A total of 42 law firms participated in the 2012 survey. Only firms with 15 or more attorneys in San Diego County were included in the results.

The survey revealed a 7 percent increase in the number of women in leadership positions, from 17 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2012.

Additionally, the ratio of women equity partners increased by 7 percent to 26 percent. A total of 21 law firms submitted data for equity partners.

"I am encouraged by the reporting of leadership positions," said Johanna Schiavoni, a partner with Jacobs & Schlesinger and a member of the equality and action committee. "That's one area we see improvement in San Diego.

"We haven't seen, in my view, enough progress in women making partner, and the numbers also are relatively flat at the associate level."

But, she said, the participation of so many firms in the survey is an encouraging sign.

"They are making efforts to make improvements to address the underlying issues that are causing slower progress," Schiavoni said. "Many firms are at least talking about issues, which is the first step in addressing them."

The firm with the largest ratio of female lawyers was Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP with 65 percent. Littler Mendelson (63 percent), Best Best & Krieger (61 percent), Andres Lagasse Branch and Bell LLP (60 percent) and Duane Morris (52 percent) rounded out the top five.

Wilson Turner Kosmo had the highest percentage of female partners (60 percent) and non-white attorneys (31 percent).

Sixty percent of Andres Lagasse's partners were women (tied with Wilson Turner Kosmo) and 75 percent of its equity partners were women.

Schiavoni said there are a number of factors for why there aren't more female partners at law firms.

"There are structural challenges within a lot of law firms and some of it is cultural," she said. "I don't think you can simply attribute it to family matters."

Studies have shown that women tend to get less credit for their books of business -- a major factor in partnership consideration -- than men.

There are several solutions, according to Schiavoni.

"There has to be a commitment from leaders within a law firm to improve and diversify their attorney ranks," she said. "Research shows the review process needs to be more gender neutral.

"And I think being realistic about alternative work arrangements (would help)."

Public agencies have been better than private firms about hiring and promoting female attorneys, according to the survey results.

At the 11 public agencies surveyed, women accounted for an average of 54 percent of total attorneys (down slightly from 55 percent in 2011) and 48 percent of the attorneys in top-level positions (the same as in 2011). Fifty-five percent of the agencies were headed by women -- the same as in 2011.

Non-white attorneys comprised 22 percent of attorneys at public agencies in 2012, up from 20 percent in 2011.

"The goal of Lawyers Club is to publicize the issue more and make decision-makers aware of these numbers," said Schroedter, an attorney at Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, "and aware that increasing the diversity of the work force has a positive effect on developing and maintaining client relationships.

"More and more clients are looking to work with companies that have a diverse work force."

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