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Tales from the Trenches: Obstacles to Developing Business and Getting Ahead

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Earlier this month, I came across an article published by The American Lawyer that discussed the lack of female attorneys included in Chambers and Partners’ rankings, and it made me wonder if such dismal percentages would also be reflected in its rankings of Colorado attorneys. A quick review unfortunately confirmed the numbers detailed in the article weren’t far off from those in Colorado. As the article put it, “[t]he industry’s gold standard directory remains stubbornly white and male in its coveted lawyer rankings, particularly in the most elite practice sectors.”

According to the article, women are “woefully underrepresented” in Chambers and Partners rankings of U.S. lawyers, which reflects women’s struggle for recognition in Big Law. For example, in 2019, only 13% of ranked lawyers in the New York M&A market were women, and only one woman, Faiza Saeed of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, made it to band 1, the top rank. Women fared even worse in the general commercial litigation category, making up just over 7% of those recognized in the New York market.

The listings of Colorado attorneys reveal that women attorneys made up just over 14% of the Chambers’ ranked lawyers in the Corporate/M&A market in 2019, and, again, only one woman, Lucy Schlauch Stark of Holland & Hart, made band 1. Similarly, in the general commercial litigation category, only slightly more than 11% of the Colorado Chambers-ranked lawyers were female. Women represented even smaller percentages in other categories. And only one woman, Elizabeth Sharrer of Holland & Hart’s Real Estate Practice Group, was named under the Senior Statespeople, Eminent Practitioners, or Star Individuals categories, across all practice areas.

The American Lawyer article noted that Chambers’ editor-in-chief, Rieta Ghosh, acknowledged the imbalance, pointing to “institutional difficulties,” such as “law firm politics and the preponderance of men among general counsel who advise Chambers,” as prevailing obstacles. The author of the article recognized that many of the women she spoke with were uninformed about Chambers’ listings generally, the nomination process, and their importance as a credential.

The obstacles seem to stem from multiple sources, not just Chambers. Law firms need to keep women in mind as deserving of the recognition, and women need to lobby for themselves and each other to get listed. Fortunately, Chambers seems to be stepping up to the challenge. According to the article, Chambers hired a diversity and inclusion chief, who will oversee gender and diversity issues. Analysts with the company are purportedly required to interview equal numbers of male and female partners and have chosen to reach out to female partners in instances where male partners have been suggested by law firms.

While the article, and my research, are not particularly promising, Chambers’ recent action offers a glimmer of hope and serves as a reminder that we all play a role in changing the landscape. Though we, as women, will face challenges for the foreseeable future, we must find ways to overcome them and to shift institutional biases if we want to effect real change. We can start by supporting each other and advocating for ourselves.


Nicole Jones is currently an Appellate Law Clerk for the Honorable Carlos A. Samour, Jr., at the Colorado Supreme Court. She is the Editor of The 1891’s “Tales from the Trenches” column and a member of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Publications Committee. Nicole also serves as the Assistant Program Chair for the Thompson G. Marsh American Inn of Court, co-chair of the Denver Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee’s Pro Bono Week, and as a member of the Colorado Judicial Institute.

Any views or opinions reflected in this publication do not reflect the position of the Colorado Supreme Court or the Colorado Judicial Department.

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