By Liz O’Donnell (Boston)

Four law firms made the Working Mother magazine Top 100 companies this year. Considering the legal profession’s reputation, this is encouraging news.

Washington, D.C.-based Arnold & Porter is on the list for the tenth time, and the sixth consecutive year. Says Managing Partner, Richard M. Alexander, “Working mothers are a vital part of our work force. Our goal is to have programs and benefits in place to enable them to balance their professional life with the needs of raising a family.”

The firm was recognized specifically for its unique on ramping/off ramping policies. The practice lets lawyers leave for up to three years and encourages them to keep in touch via development opportunities. Arnold & Porter also offers generous flexibility and child care at its Washington headquarters and close to its Manhattan office. And, particularly relevant this winter as the H1N1 virus is expected to cause turmoil for working parents, Arnold & Palmer lets employees take six paid weeks of leave. Their strategy is clearly paying off. Forty percent of the firm’s managers, 50 percent of its top earners, and 32 percent of its directors are women.

Another D.C. based firm, Covington & Burling, made the list for the fourth consecutive year. Tim Hester, chair of the Covington’s management committee, says, “Innovative work-life programs are critical to the success of our lawyers and staff.” Innovative may be an understatement. One attorney says all it took to change to a flex schedule after the birth of her twins was sending an email. She sent a follow up email when she was ready to return to a full-time schedule. This firm, which specializes in technology, litigation, white collar defense, transactional, governmental affairs, international and life sciences, is made up of sixty percent women. Women are 47 percent of the managers, 25 percent of the top earners and 14 percent of the board.

On the list for the third consecutive year is Katten Muchin Rosenman, a Chicago-based, full-service firm with more than 600 attorneys in the United States and London. What’s most unique about this firm’s human resource policies is that 17 percent of the women promoted there in the last year worked part-time. That’s a remarkable statistic in such a grueling industry.

Katten Muchin Rosenman offers its employees three fully paid months off after giving birth or adopting. Employees who’ve been with the firm five years of more earn an additional month. Perhaps the best perk for employees on leave is the fact the firm reduces their billable hour targets –as this can be a major source of stress for attorneys. Finally, the firm offers generous back-up child care so employees aren’t caught off guard when their regular child care plans fall through. More than half of the firm’s employees are women, which may be why it’s so progressive. Women represent 33 percent of all managers, seventeen percent of its directors, but only eight percent of its top earners.

Finally, there is Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which focuses on energy, financial services, real estate and technology. The firm has made the list every year since 2006. The majority of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman employees are women and it was the first firm on the American Lawyer 100 list to elect a woman as chair. Last year, 10 percent of Pillsbury employees job-shared, 80 percent used some form of flex time and all employees became eligible for six fully paid weeks of parental leave. And like Katten Muchin Rosenman, the firm also offers free backup child care. Women represent 48 percent of all managers, 22 percent of the firm’s top earners, and an encouraging 31 percent of the directors.

As encouraging as it may sound that these four firms offer such forward-thinking benefits, they have been the only law firms on the list since 2007. Women represent almost half (48 percent) of all law school graduates but still represent only 18 percent of law partners and 25 percent of all judges. Hopefully, there will be some more firms joining the list in 2010 as we see more women rise through the legal ranks.