Why it is smart business for law firms to attract and retain more women lawyers

I am proud to be the managing partner at Levin & Perconti, a nationally recognized personal injury and medical malpractice law firm, where 50 percent of our attorneys and 46 percent of our partners are women.

In recent years as the number of our female lawyers and partners increased, so did our success as a firm. Female lawyers play leading roles in most of the firm's biggest cases and many are successfully balancing careers and families.

I wish I could say in 2023 our firm is the norm for the legal profession, but sadly it is not, especially in the area of law we practice, which traditionally is male dominated. Many law firms are still operating like it is the 1960s, and it is pushing too many female lawyers out of the profession.

In recent years women have accounted for more than half of the nation's law students, but female attorneys make up only 38 percent of the legal profession. There is a leaky pipeline with many talented female lawyers leaving the profession within 10 years mainly because of the lack of flexibility law firms provide women during the childbearing years and when raising young children, an unsupportive culture and even today, unequal pay and career advancement.

Plugging that pipeline and stopping the exodus is not just the right thing to do for women, it is also a smart business move. Law firms spend time and money recruiting and training lawyers. To have female lawyers leave just as they are reaching their prime and taking their expertise and working relationships with them is not a good return on investment. It is disruptive for clients and unsustainable for the legal profession moving forward in the future.

I began as a law clerk at Levin & Perconti in 2006. They had only two female lawyers then. I was fortunate because our founding partner, Steve Levin, was committed to hiring and retaining more female lawyers.

He recognized the talent, work ethic and special skills women bring to the law especially in personal injury and medical malpractice cases where you are often dealing with clients at the worst time of their lives.

He also saw the unique challenges women face, especially when they have young children. Work-life balance is always a struggle for lawyers because it is a field that demands long hours. But it is often more difficult for women, especially while in their 30s. These are the years when lawyers are working toward becoming partners and also the time when women often have babies and are raising young children.

No surprise, this is also the time when the pipeline is the leakiest.

At our firm we made some small changes that made a big difference. Our workplace became more flexible. As long as you completed your work, there was flexibility to do so and still be home to put your kids to bed.

Years prior to the pandemic, we worked remotely from home. Taking maternity leave was supported, not disdained. Equal pay and advancement opportunities along with a culture where women mentor each other were also essential.

The payoff for the firm has been immeasurable in terms of attracting and retaining top female legal talent. The bottom line is doing the right thing for women is also good for business.

Our law firm has obtained more than a billion dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients, including a number of record results and our female attorneys have been a big part of the firm's success and growth.

I have spent 17 years at the firm, advancing from law clerk, to associate, to partner and now managing partner. I also had two babies.

My children are now in grammar school and although my schedule is hectic, I have the flexibility and support I need to be a lawyer and a mom. It also benefited our male lawyers have families and helped with their work-life balance too.

I hope Levin & Perconti can serve as a model for other law firms.

• Margaret Battersby Black is the managing partner at Levin & Perconti and an Elmhurst resident.

Margaret Battersby Black
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