By Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) recently released their Report of The Fourth Annual National Survey On Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. The survey program, which began in 2006, is, according to the report, “the only national study that annually tracks the professional progress of women in the nation’s 200 largest law firms by providing a comparative view of the careers and compensation of men and women lawyers at all levels of private practice, including senior roles as equity partners and law firm leaders, and data about the factors that influence career progression.”

Stephanie Scharf, founder of the Survey and President of the NAWL Foundation which co-sponsors the Survey with NAWL, explained its genesis: “The old saying is that if you want to change something, first you have to measure it. An important purpose of the survey is to provide baseline benchmarks for how a typical law firm is performing. People can assess a firm against those benchmarks and determine where women in private practice stand.” Scharf was quick to state that the NAWL doesn’t publish firm-by-firm data—“we want answers without fear”—and instead, publishes findings based on objective measures like retention and promotion.

This is the first year that the firms surveyed were asked specifically about “rainmaking”—business building. Scharf said she was most surprised by the low number of women who are identified as the rainmakers in their firms. The survey found that “almost half the firms – 46% – count no women at all in their top 10 rainmakers.” Said Scharf, “It’s hard to tell why [we got this result], and there are several possible explanations, including that women may not be getting credit for the business they help to bring in. We plan to do some follow up research to get a clearer picture of what explains the results.”

Scharf was pleased to see that involuntary terminations did not disproportionately affect full time working women. But, she noted that the survey disclosed that almost all the part-time attorneys who were terminated were women. “That was an unhappy surprise, and raises a long term question about what that will do to the pipeline [for those who want to advance in the firm].”

As stated in the Report: “Women continue to earn less than their male counterparts at the highest levels of partnership, with women equity partners earning typically about $66,000 less than their male counterparts.” Ms. Scharf added that, while this discrepancy was notably less than in previous years, it is still “unfortunately substantial.”

Still, firms with a larger than average number of women rainmakers have fewer compensation differences between men and women partners. “With a better distribution of leadership roles among men and women, it appears that gender-based differences in compensation can be eliminated.”

Going forward, the NAWL will use the result of this year’s survey to continue to educate the top law firms about best practices for advancing women into leadership positions. “Without advocacy, the survey—and the challenges it set forth—doesn’t transition into action,” Scharf concluded.

Read the full report here.