Is the Future of Big Law Female?

Hogan Lovells, an international law firm with over 2,800 lawyers, has announced a new partnership class that is 58% women, beating the odds in a male-dominated industry. This announcement has sparked discussions about the future of Big Law and whether Hogan's numbers could signal a trend.

Hogan named a total of 38 new partners in its new class.

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Miguel Zaldivar, Hogan's CEO, believes that demographics will inevitably lead to more diversity at the top. He points out that women now constitute the majority of law students and there are more racial and ethnic minorities in law school than a decade ago. If firms want to compete for the best talent, they need to focus on recruiting, retaining, and promoting diverse lawyers.

Anna Kurian Shaw, Hogan's Global Managing Partner for Diversity, says that for diversity to be successful, it requires a plan, not just an organic effort. The firm has set specific numeric goals, such as achieving 30% female partners worldwide by 2022, which it has exceeded, with a current rate of 29% worldwide and 32% in the U.S. The firm has also committed to achieving 15% minority partners and 4% LGBTQ+ partners by 2025. It’s reached its LGBTQ+ goal and is just short of its racially/ethnically diverse partner goal by 1%.

On the associate front, the firm is already female-dominated — 53%, according to Chambers.

Hogan has implemented an exhaustive set of policies to integrate its DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) goals into all aspects of the firm, including pipeline, recruiting, assignments, training, retaining, and lateral hiring. The firm also has a program called "Momentum" to provide training and support for senior associates who show promise for partnership. Those in charge are held responsible for results, with accountability based on numbers.

While Hogan's efforts have received praise, some experts question whether most firms would mimic Hogan's measures. Elizabeth Tursi, Chair of the Women In Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF), says that Hogan is an anomaly, but it is a step in the right direction towards promoting gender equality in the legal industry. WILEF awards its Gold Standard honor to law firms that meet certain metrics for promoting women.

“Some traditionally Gold Standard firms like Cooley and Paul Weiss, in announcing their partnership class, just barely made the WILEF Gold Standard mandatory 25% equity partners criteria. From where I am sitting, it isn’t pretty,” Tursi said.

However, Caren Ulrich Stacy, the founder of Diversity Lab, an organization that promotes diversity in the legal profession, voiced a more optimistic note: “There is an upward trend across the profession over the last decade.”

Still, Stacy warned, “Firms cannot take their eye off the ball, or unrecoverable backsliding will occur, especially with layoffs and other recession decisions afoot that often disproportionately impact underrepresented lawyers.”