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Women forging new paths in the legal field

From women-owned solo law practices to leadership positions, women are making an impact

Two female attorneys, Jami Wintz McKeon and Therese Pritchard, made headlines this fall as they assumed leadership positions at big law firms. Their appointments were noteworthy because women account for less than 17 percent of partners at the top 200 law firms in the country, but more than one-third of practicing attorneys are women. The Wall Street Journal also notes that only 4 percent of these law firms are run my women – down from 8 percent in 2008.

“The new crop of women leaders is taking over at a challenging time for the legal profession, which is still adjusting to subdued demand and increased competition after the economic downturn,” wrote Jennifer Smith for the WSJ. women-owned solo law practice

So, while these high-powered women are certainly an inspiration to other lawyers, the changes in the profession are leading men and women alike down a different path: solo practice.

Women who choose to launch solo law practices are in good company as American women are increasingly choosing entrepreneurship over corporate career paths. A recent study from American Express OPEN shows that women are starting businesses at 1.5 times the national average – 1,288 new women-owned businesses launch each day. The study shows that these businesses are impacting the U.S. economy as they add more jobs (274,000 added since 2007) and increase revenue.

Wendy Diamond, CEO and founder of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, highlighted that economic impact in a recent interview with the Thompson Reuters Foundation, saying, “According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap report, the U.S. has experienced 11 percent growth over the last 40 years as a direct result of the increased participation of women, which has translated into $3.5 trillion.”

Diamond organized the inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Day just last week, on Nov. 19, 2014, to provide inspiration for women and girls around the world and to celebrate the achievements of women in business.

One law blogger, Susan Smith Blakely, encourages women lawyers to network with women small business owners, but many women lawyers have become small business owners themselves. While there are no clear statistics on the number of women-owned solo law practices, several studies have highlighted lack of work-life balance for women at large law firms as a reason many are choosing entrepreneurship over the partner track. A study from PayPal showed that 55 percent of American women who start businesses do so to achieve greater work-life balance.

Carolyn Elefant, solo attorney and blogger at MyShingle.com, commented on the news of the two high-profile women attorneys who took leadership roles at big firms, saying, “Meanwhile, women are heading solo and small firm practices that they built from the ground up. Let’s hope, even as women advance at big law, they realize that they don’t have to settle for being manager of a law firm when they can own it.”

Are you a woman operating a solo law practice or small law firm? We’d love to hear your take on why you chose that career path. Contact us at the LawBank website.

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