While there are notable women in some of the highest ranks of local law firms, 18 of the largest locally based firms that the Business Journal evaluated are still predominantly run by men. Only 27% of local partners at local law firms are women. Of the 18 firms reviewed, three had no female partners, although eight have named partners who are women. The law firm with the highest percentage of female partners had 100%. The second highest had 67%.
Despite the gap that persists between men and women in leadership roles at law firms, some women in leadership roles believe things have come a long way.
“Women are doing better, but they’re not quite there yet. I’ve been practicing law for 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of change,” said Dawn Finlayson, named partner at Caldwell East & Finlayson PLLC Attorneys at Law. “When I started in the late ’70s, there were not as many women practicing law. Back then, you saw a difference between the older men and younger men. Men 40 and above, they were going to be a problem. They had a bad view of women. Now those younger men are the older men at these firms, and that’s why things are better. They weren’t misogynist, but sexist. They weren’t bad people at all. It was just subtle cultural things. The language they used. Calling women ‘honey.’ Things like that. Young women just tolerated it. For a woman to succeed, she had to be pretty tolerant. For me, I just tolerated it and focused on getting by and getting ahead.”
These subtle comments were even present at Finlayson’s first law job, where she worked for her father.
“He was the worst. He and these other men saw women who were feminists as test cases. There was a woman congressman back then named Bella Abzug. A classic feminist. They would always say, ‘Don’t be like her,’” Finlayson said. “With that said, we had a lot of cases together that first year, and we actually had a great time.”
Like women in other industries, Finlayson says earlier in her career, she felt as if she needed to be the most prepared to be taken seriously, a trait she is also seeing among younger female lawyers today. Along with preparedness, younger female lawyers and law students are pushing boundaries that were unthinkable to cross three decades ago.
“I have a daughter starting her last year of law school,” said Shari Pulman, founding partner at Pulman, Cappuccio & Pullen LLP. “When young women interview at law firms these days, they ask, ‘What is your partnership tract like for women? What is your maternity leave policy?’ When I came out of college, you didn’t want to ask that. You didn’t want it to be perceived as a negative. You suppressed that. With my daughter and women like her, they ask those questions. They don’t worry if it will have a negative effect. I get a big kick out of seeing that.”
For Pulman, a more level playing field for women in law could be as simple as allowing for a better work-life balance for women and men.
“One difficulty I had early on was working under men who didn’t understand that when you have a kid who gets sick, you wanted to be with your child. I was hit with some resistance on that. It’s different now. At my law firm, we work very hard and deal with very complex commercial litigation, but we also pride ourselves on being family friendly. That whole perspective has changed in the 33 years I’ve practiced. There’s more of an eye toward work-life balance. I see it in my male partners, like one who leaves at 4:30 on Wednesdays to coach his son’s soccer team. When I started, you’d never see that. Here, we are OK if you bring your kids into the office. If you had your kids in the office back in the day, you had to practically hide them under your desk. If you were a big-time attorney, you hired a nanny. It’s different now.”
LAW FIRMS ANALYZED
- Langley & Banack Inc.
- Brock Guerra Strandmo Dimaline Jones
- Rosenthal Pauerstein Sandoloski Agather LLP
- Pulman Cappuccio Pullen LLP
- Davidson Troilo Ream & Garza PC
- Thornton Biechlin Reynolds & Guerra LC
- Cacheaux Cavazos & Newton LLP
- Patel | Gaines PLLC
- Hornberger Fuller & Garza Inc.
- Cubeta Law Group
- Barton Benson Jones PLLC
- Gardner Law
- Golden Steves & Gordon LLP
- King & Sommer PLLC
- Davis, Cedillo & Mendoza Inc.
- Schmoyer Reinhard LLP
- Uhl Fitzsimons Jewett Burton & Wolff PLLC
- Caldwell East & Finlayson