How can we stop women from leaving traditional law firm positions? This is the question that the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) is trying to address with the launch of its Institute for Gender Equality. The launch coincides with the election of Kimberly Brown, partner at Thorp Reed and Armstrong, as the president of ACBA.
The Post-Gazette reports that the creation of the Institute is a result of a survey that found that women’s progress in the Allegheny County legal community between 1990 and 2005 was surprisingly limited.
Brown attributes this phenomenon the lack of flexibility that is provided by traditional law firm positions, as well as the limited assistance in career development provided by the firms. As a result, female lawyers are leaving private practices to work for “less traditional practice areas,” like non-profit work or teaching jobs, and even work that is entirely unrelated to law.
Brown explains that not only do these circumstances hurt women lawyers, but they are also detrimental to the firms they work for:
After training and investing in young lawyers, firms stand to lose $200,000 to $500,000 “when that woman walks out the door” to seek a better balance or a promotion elsewhere….” “It’s to [the firms’] own economic advantage to take a look at why women are leaving so they don’t incur that loss … and continue to have an employee who will contribute to the bottom line.”
The goal of the Institute’s programs, then, is to help law firms to both identify the reasons women leave practices and, accordingly, to establish work environments “that can enhance, rather than inhibit women’s careers.”
As a result of the lengths that the Institute goes to in addressing inequality for women in law and enacting systematic change, Brown thinks it may be one of a kind.
“We’re not aware of any other bar association addressing how to make real changes and educate employers about the changes they can make to directly impact the retention of women in a way that will help their business model and their bottom line. There can’t be one without the other.”
The Institute will hold its kickoff luncheon Oct. 28, at the Omni William Penn Hotel, in Downtown Pittsburgh.