This year, the criteria to receive the WILEF Gold Standard Certification were tightened. What were the reasons behind the changes?
I personally thought it was time to up the ante. My opinion has always been that the stakes should get higher. Leaving it stagnant does nothing—doesn’t push the envelope at all. I gave everybody four years to meet the standards. But why should firms keep certifying under the same standards year after year? At last year’s annual meeting, there was a very intense discussion regarding the changes, especially the change to the definition of equity partner. I wanted the definition to conform to that of The American Lawyer. We went back and forth on it including post annual meeting emails and conversations, but I said, “Look, it’s changing and that’s it.”
Were the tougher standards behind the drop in firms receiving certification?
If I had to guess, I would say that the new definition of equity partner is causing fewer firms to be certified. Under the new definition, an equity partner must receive no more than half of his or her income on a fixed basis. Law firms with two tiers partnerships—equity and non-equity—would obviously be affected by the new definition.
In general, where do you see most firms falling short when it comes to promoting women?
It’s a difficult question to answer because different firms have different issues. But some of it could be generational changes. There are many more options today for lawyers. You don’t have to work at a law firm and that may be one reason why women are not stepping up to leadership. I think many millennials today don’t have a desire to become a leader at a law firm—they have options.
What about the results this year pleased you?
I am always surprised by the firms that attain the Gold Standard every year. It is a testament to their attention to making sure that the women in their firms attain their goals. Two firms in particular—Cooley and Sidley Austin—work very hard to achieve the Gold Standard every year. And that starts at the top—with Sidley, it’s Carter Phillips and with Cooley, it’s Joe Conroy. Deeply committed to women in their firms. Deeply committed. You really have to be committed to meeting the standards for certification each year.
What role are the increasing number of women chairs and managing partners having on the Gold Standard Certification process?
It may be surprising to some, but not much. Currently there are about 19 Am Law 200 firms with a woman in a key leadership role. Of those firms, only seven received the Gold Standard certification this year.
This Gold Standard Certification is now in its sixth year. How would you characterize the progress Big Law has made in promoting women and the work that remains?
Some progress has been made, but there is still much to do. I feel that the WILEF standards have pushed firms. But in some ways firms are going backwards. For many years, they had a consciousness about making sure their women got ahead. But it’s waning at some firms.
The thing you have to remember, however, is that more women are becoming general counsels. While they may not give the work just to women, I think they might prefer women. GCs will pick the best to represent them, but if there are women who have equal qualifications and equal credentials to men, the GC may opt for a woman. That potential commercial incentive makes me optimistic for the future.