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Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 3:59:49 pm

On China trip, lawyer finds parallels to law firm glass ceilings

In her latest Texas Lawyer commentary, Andrews Kurth attorney Kathleen J. Wu offers this important reminder: Sometimes it takes hitting the road to appreciate what

you've got at home. In Wu's case, it was a trip to China with her young son, where she saw first-hand the rapid pace of change that the country is going through. For Wu, the China experience offers insight into the state of law firm diversity and the glass ceiling.

Writes Wu: I know: It seems like we haven't made any progress. Women lawyers haven't achieved anything near parity in the partnership ranks at major firms. We only have one woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, down from two. To the naked eye, it can seem like we're actually moving backward. But we're not. Trust me. When Sandra Day O'Connor graduated No. 3 in her class at Stanford Law School in 1952, the only legal job offer she could get was as a secretary. In the 1970s, a group of women law students in Dallas had to sue even to get interviews at firms. When I started in the late 1980s, I wasn't allowed to wear pants to work.

Now, not only can I wear pants, but women are entering the profession at the same rate as men. Some of the largest firms in the world have had female managing partners. And while parity is a long way off, the percentage of female partners has inched up steadily over the years. The most encouraging trend I've seen, though, is the number of firms that have started meaningful women's initiatives and put real money and political support behind them. These firms are making an effort to recruit, develop and retain women lawyers. While they aren't always successful, and there are lots of structural and cultural hurdles to overcome before there's real parity, I have to remember that these things move in geologic time. Progress can't be measured in months or years. It has to be measured in decades and centuries.

The sticks that punish the legal profession for its resistance to change -- the flight of talented yet discouraged and overwhelmed women from the profession -- coupled with the carrots offered by clients demanding diversity in their legal service providers make progress as inevitable here as it is in China. It's going to take a while, but if the Chinese can keep fighting the good fight, so can we.