Friday, November 7, 2008

Women as "canaries in the coal mines" that are large law firms

This story from today's ABA Journal online suggests that an exodus of women from Heller, Ehrman foretold the firm's collapse. Here's the lede from Deborah Weiss's story:

A former Heller Ehrman partner who spearheaded a project to retain women lawyers has been doing some thinking about why law firms dissolve.

Patricia Gillette, an employment lawyer, leaped to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe last October for what she describes as “cultural reasons.” At Heller, she founded the Opt-In Project with another lawyer in an effort to find out how to retain women lawyers. What she learned, she tells the ABA Journal, was that the problems spurring women lawyers to leave law firms were also contributing to firm implosions.

“Women were the canaries in the coal mine,” says Gillette. “What we found is that the issues that were causing women to leave law firms have become the issues that are causing young lawyers to leave large law firms, whether men or women.”

The project identified several problems with the management structure at law firms that are forcing out young lawyers unwilling to wait for the remote partnership prize, contributing to unhappiness among Baby Boomer lawyers seeking new practice options, and eroding the cohesiveness that had held firms together.

While it's never good to be the canary in the coalmine if you're the one that croaks, what is heartening about this story is that women were smart enough to get out -- and they became trendsetters on that basis.

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