According to the Federal Census Bureau, more than 400,000 women in the U.S. are lawyers, comprising roughly 38% of the country’s attorneys. As women now make up more than half of law school graduates, their numbers in the ranks are growing. In 2020, more than 19,000 women graduated from accredited law schools, according to the American Bar Association. While women account for nearly half of associates at the country’s 200 largest firms, lucrative equity partnerships and leadership roles in Big Law tend to remain elusive. In the face of this scarcity, many women lawyers opt to start their own firms.
While some small firm founders can rely on the solid reputations they built in their preceding practice, most need to work hard to establish a case and client stream, grow their business, and distinguish their firms. Certification as a women-owned law firm can offer tangible advantages to help firms increase their client base and develop relationships across the profession.
Certification can increase referrals from firms who need to transfer matters due to conflicts of interest and present a chance to be noticed by corporate clients seeking diversity in outside counsel. Indeed, a company deciding between firms that otherwise offer approximately equal experience and qualifications could see certification as a deciding factor. Having your firm’s foot in the door with a large business could mean continued engagement from a client who may be involved in a wide variety of legal matters and wants to keep working with a firm they know and like.
Certification can also qualify women-owned enterprises for federal contract set-asides, although a small law firm’s focus will more likely lie in increased corporate contacts than in large government contracts.
Various organizations offer women-owned certification, and most define women-owned as having at least 50% or 51% of the ownership interest held by one or more women. The process of obtaining certification may be cumbersome and require review of operating agreements as well as loan and other paperwork to verify women ownership and control.
Certification through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) boasts access to networking events, procurement opportunities, mentoring, executive education, capacity development programs, and other business tools and resources. WBENC members can also display a Women Owned Logo and Women’s Business Enterprise Seal as a tool to market their business and expand visibility. The council has around 450 company members and has certified 18,000 women-owned businesses across myriad sectors, including law firms and legal services providers. Certification costs begin at $350 but increase based on annual revenue.
The National Association of Minority & Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), which focuses on corporate legal work, requires women-owned certified firms to have three practicing lawyers for membership and helps connect qualified firms to corporate clients.
Once you’ve got increased visibility and access to clients, you’ll want to learn more about LevelEsq’s solutions to finance your plaintiff cases, insure your out-of-pocket costs against a trial loss, and continue to grow your law firm business.