Looking at new partners in Missouri in the past year, however, it seems those numbers may be starting to move upward.
Nearly 35 percent of the 132 partners reported on Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly 2017 New Partners list are female, which is significantly higher than both statewide and national numbers on women partners at law firms.
“That’s a very encouraging statistic,” said Megan Phillips, co-chair of the Missouri Supreme Court Joint Commission on Women in the Profession. “That is closer to representation of women in the profession.”
The joint commission’s 2015 study found that women make up 31.9 percent of attorneys at large firms and 27.6 percent of lawyers at small and midsized firms.
The study also found that at large firms, women make up 20.1 percent of partners, with women representing a higher percentage of associates, 45.4 percent. The same was true at small and midsized firms, where women made up 19.8 percent of partners and 39.5 percent of associates.
Nationally, women made up 22.13 percent of partners at firms in 2016, according to data from the National Association for Law Placement, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
The number of female new partners has been on the rise in Missouri for the past couple of years, according to information Missouri Lawyers Weekly collected. Women made up 32.9 percent of the New Partners list in 2016 and 29.8 percent on the 2015 list. This year 31 firms participated in our annual survey.
Phillips said it will be easier for the commission to keep an eye on the numbers now that the bar and court collect gender data on attorney enrollment forms, but she’s hopeful the trend will continue.
“I think law firms are just more attuned to their talent and the value of their lawyers and realize that losing their women lawyers is costly,” Phillips said. “It just makes good business sense to advance their talent.”
Many firms are also making efforts to focus on retaining female talent.
At Stinson Leonard Street, where three of the five new partners it reported in Missouri this year were women, Managing Partner Mark Hinderks said diversity of all types, including gender diversity, is a priority for the firm.
For the past several years the firm has had a pretty balanced class of associates, he said, and has focused programs around retention, which offer options like flexible scheduling, and making sure promotion to partner was accessible to those with alternative work schedules.
“We are very, very serious and very, very organized,” Hinderks said of the efforts. “That’s beginning to show results, like a consistent trail of good new women partners.”
The firm also has more female board members than it’s had before, more female office managing partners and six of its nine chief officers are women, he said.
Hinderks said he thinks the number of female partners will continue to increase in the future, at Stinson and beyond.
“Women make up our talent pool just as much as men. If you want to be successful as a business, certainly as a law firm, you have to focus on all segments of the talent pool in order to take advantage of the tremendous talent that is there,” he said.
That’s exactly what Morrow Willnauer Klosterman Church does, said member Jim Morrow. All three of the new partners the firm reported this year are women.
“I just think the women we have been able to bring into our firm are exceptional lawyers, and because they are exceptional lawyers, they become partners,” he said.
Karie E. Casey, one of the three new partners, said she noticed that the firm doesn’t “look at you as a woman or man” but “what you bring to the table, if you are a good fit.”
“That’s what I like about the firm,” she said.
Casey also noted the firm had a female founding partner, Joan Klosterman, and said Klosterman was one of the main reasons she opted to join.
“To see someone like that in the role she has in the firm was an inspiration to me,” she said.
Casey has been with the firm for two years and has been practicing law for 27 years.
In that time, she has seen some challenges for female lawyers. At some firms, for instance, she said attorneys aren’t always given the opportunities to grow their own business book, although that isn’t always necessary “a man, woman thing” she said.
Casey said she’s definitely seen changes over the years for female attorneys, which she said comes naturally as there are more women practicing.
“When I started out almost 30 years ago, you might be one [woman] with 40 men in the room going over a docket call. Now, that’s not the case at all,” she said.
Phillips said another important step to improve the advancement of women is going to be credit allocation, which in the past had favored men.
“The ways that law firms have allocated business generation credit in the past have existed for decades and some of them are fairly archaic and really don’t work in the modern work place,” she said.
When women receive the credit they deserve for work they are doing with clients and helping generate business, they will advance through the ranks more with men, Phillips said.
Seeing women represent 50 percent of partners is a long way off, she said, but considering the number of female partners hasn’t budged very much in the last decade or so, seeing more than 30 percent female new partners is a significant start.
“At the end of the day, our goal, and everyone’s goal, is just to see women have equal recognition, equal value, equal pay and equal opportunity,” she said. “That’s what everyone wants.”
Correction: Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale added two partners, Molly Batsch and Dan Garner, in Missouri last year. The number was incorrect in the New Partners section on Feb. 20.
Joseph Porter Jr. of Armstrong Teasdale earned his law degree from Saint Louis University. His law school was incorrectly listed in New Partners.