I find most of Big Law’s efforts promoting gender equality to be lame, but Hogan Lovells’ new partnership class got my attention: It is 58% women.
What’s thrilling is that women at Hogan not only beat the odds—the 2,800-lawyer firm only made 38 partners—but also came up on top. It sure is nice to see more firms announcing new partnership classes that are close to 50% women. But it’s much more satisfying when women cream men at their game.
It almost seems plausible that the script can be flipped—with female partners running the show and men playing second fiddle. Imagine a major firm where men hold only 26.6% of partner seats—which is the national percentage of female partners, according to the National Association for Legal Placement—and no one bats an eyelash.
That might seem like a wild fantasy, since women only comprise 38% of all lawyers nationwide. So here’s the question: Does Hogan’s latest partnership class signal how Big Law will look in the not-so-distant future? Or is it an anomaly?
Hogan’s CEO, Miguel Zaldivar, suggests that demographics will inevitably lead to more women and minorities rising to the top. “Many law schools now have classes that are more than 50% women,” Zaldivar told me in an email, noting that women have constituted the majority of law students since 2016.
“Similarly, there are more racial and ethnic minorities in law school than there were a decade ago. So if firms want to compete for the best talent, they will have to focus on recruiting, retaining, and promoting women lawyers and diverse talent,” Zaldivar said.
Many firms say the same things, but how did Hogan actually produce results?
‘Intentional and Specific’
“If firms feel they can do this organically, they’re kidding themselves,” Anna Kurian Shaw, Hogan’s global managing partner for diversity, told me. “Like any other goal, it doesn’t work without a plan, especially in an industry like ours which has had difficulty with diversity. You must be intentional and specific.”
“There’s always a diversity, equity, and inclusion focus on everything we do—it’s always part of the discussion,” Marie-Aimée de Dampierre, the Paris-based chair of Hogan, told me during a Zoom call.
“When I speak of diversity, I’m not talking about just gender.” She noted that Hogan’s global nature encompasses “a mix of practices and multiple cultures.” Her goal: “I’d like the firm to be viewed as a place for diverse talent.”
Unlike many firms that make nebulous pledges, Hogan puts itself out there by setting specific numeric goals.
In 2012, the firm set a target of 30% female partners worldwide by 2022. Its female partner rate is now 29% worldwide and 32% for the US. On the associate front, the firm is already female-dominated—53%, according to Chambers.
Three years ago the firm committed to achieving 15% minority partners and 4% LGBTQ+ partners by 2025. The firm says it’s reached its LGBTQ+ goal and is just short of its racially/ethnically diverse partner goal by 1%.
One of Hogan’s early goals—that women represent at least 30% of its global management committee—also arrived ahead of schedule. Hogan said the committee is 35% women and 25% racially/ethnically diverse.
Priming the Pipeline
One reason Hogan is on a roll is that it’s implemented an exhaustive set of policies. “Our DEI goals are integrated into all aspects of the firm—the pipeline, recruiting, assignments, training, retaining, and lateral hiring,” Shaw explained. “We take a granular approach.”
For women, it’s also critical to support them when they are mid-level associates, a time when many leave. “The important thing is making sure they’re engaged in the work, that at the mid-level point they can see a path,” Shaw said.
And to keep the partnership pipeline pumped with women and diverse candidates, Hogan has a program called “Momentum” that provides training and support for senior associates who show promise for partnership. “Our DEI provides the support to ensure that there’s stickiness to keep them,” Shaw said.
What’s more, the firm says that those in charge are held responsible for results. “We think in terms of accountability—holding practice leaders to expectations,” Shaw said. “And accountability comes down to numbers.”
Is This Sustainable?
All this sounds like a lot of work—leadership buy-in, specific goals, processes, accountability, and constant focus. But would most firms mimic even half of Hogan’s measures?
“I do think [Hogan] is an anomaly,” said Elizabeth Tursi, chair of the Women In Law Empowerment Forum, which 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.
Voicing a more optimistic note is Caren Ulrich Stacy, the founder of Diversity Lab, an organization that promotes diversity in the legal profession. “There is an upward trend across the profession over the last decade.”
Still, Stacy cautioned, “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.”
The Shearman Merger Factor
All this raises an interesting question: What will happen if and when Hogan merges with Shearman & Sterling, which has struggled with promoting women? Can Hogan keep its focus?
Shearman’s numbers on minority partners are comparable to Hogan’s—Chambers reports that Shearman has 13% minority partners versus Hogan’s 14%.
But that firm’s record on women is pretty mediocre, particularly on the equity partner front. Shearman’s female equity partner rate is 16% versus Hogan’s 24%, according to The American Lawyer.
“We’re not in a position to comment on merger rumors,” Zaldivar said. “Regardless of what lies ahead, we are confident in our global strategy and delivering on our commitment to DEI.”
Considering that Hogan is the bigger fish in the merger—Shearman has 727 lawyers—one can only hope that its success on the gender front will be the prevailing force.
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