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Female Laterals Care About Bias Suits But Only So Much

Aebra Coe LAW360.COM

Do prospective female laterals run in the opposite direction when they learn a law firm has been sued for gender discrimination? Recruiters say "not necessarily," although a shoddy response from the firm can make things worse.

Female laterals often have some serious questions if a gender discrimination suit has been filed against a law firm they're considering, and how the firm responds to those questions plays a big role in whether they continue to see it as a possible match, according to Michelle Fivel, a partner at legal recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa.

"Firms need to speak directly to the potential fears a candidate could have if there's an allegation out there," Fivel said.

The list of law firms that have been sued by female attorneys for gender discrimination has grown precipitously over the past few years to include firms like Jones Day, Winston & Strawn LLP, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Proskauer Rose LLP, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and White and Williams LLP, among others.

Fivel said female laterals typically want firms to be upfront in addressing questions such suits might raise: What are the opportunities for women here? If the suit was the result of a "bad apple," what has the law firm done to remedy that? How is the firm working to proactively improve diversity? How well does it do when it comes to promoting women to equity partner and into leadership positions?

"It's more about looking at the firm, their partner compensation structure, and what's possible for women in particular when they go to those firms and advance within them," Fivel said. "I do see women gravitating toward places where there is a demonstrated commitment to the advancement of women."

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