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Do Firms Care When Women Bolt?

Forgive me for being a cynic (who me?), but I'm not at all convinced that law firm managers are losing sleep when women lawyers fly the coop.

I'll leave it to those of you versed in law firm economics to quibble with her numbers, but what I'm skeptical about is that firms would mourn the loss of female talent—much less feel the need to replace her. To think that firms would care about the replacement cost of senior women is to assume that gender parity is a top priority, which I'm not convinced. (Need I remind you that women are still only 17 to 18 percent of all equity partners?)

I posed these issues to Cecchi-Dimeglio, and she tells me that there's a direct correlation between diversity and revenue. She says she has been studying the statistics of "several firms—domestic and international" (she won't say how many at this point) for an upcoming book. "When you show firms that they're gaining revenue by diversifying, they have to be crazy not to diversify," she says. "It's not a moral imperative but a financial one."

Perhaps her book will make the relationship clearer. For now, though, there's plenty of skepticism. To start with the obvious, men dominate the ranks of big rainmakers, so who cares if women with scant business leave?

"I agree that firms should treat diverse partners better if they want them to stay," says Merle Vaughn, who leads the diversity practice group at recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. "But the need to replace partners is more strategic," and that, she adds, means what counts is who's bringing in the big bucks.


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