Today's New York Times carries the depressing news that only 17 percent of partners at major law firms nationwide were women in 2005. Two major evils have contributed to this statistic:
- Billable hour requirements.
- Pressure to increase profits per partner.
"One of the main bugaboos in this debate — and one that analysts says is increasingly cropping up as an issue for male lawyers as well — is the billable hours regime. Billing by the hour requires lawyers to work on a stopwatch so their productivity can be tracked minute by minute — and so clients can be charged accordingly. Over the last two decades, as law firms have devoted themselves more keenly to the bottom line, depression and dissatisfaction rates among both female and male lawyers has grown, analysts say; many lawyers of both genders have found their schedules and the nature of their work to be dispiriting," says the Times in the Sunday Business Section.
"I see a lot of people who are distressed about where the profession has gone," says Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a 52-year-old partner in the Framingham, Mass., office of the Worcester, Mass., firm of Bowditch & Dewey. "They don't like being part of a billable-hour production unit. They want more meaning out of their lives than that."
Kudos to Haynes & Boone in Dallas, which appears to have cracked the code for keeping women lawyers. "Mr. Boone, the Dallas lawyer, says that his 425-member firm has 38 female partners, about 25 percent of the firm's overall partnership base. He intends for that percentage to increase, adding that one thing that attracts a diverse group of lawyers to his firm is its compensation practices. Lawyers at Haynes and Boone are rewarded for teamwork, not individual accomplishments, staving off the dog-eat-dog competition for clients and assignments that pervades many firms. Compensation is also based on a number of other factors, including leadership and business development activities, among which billable hours are just one component," says the Times.
Compensation based in part on business development. Now that's an idea we like.