The percentages of female equity partners within Pennsylvania's largest law firms largely place in the bottom third of the national rankings, with a few shining examples of area firms that are outperforming their counterparts when it comes to promoting women.

Ballard Spahr was one of those examples, coming in fourth nationally among the 174 firms ranked by Legal affiliate The American Lawyer based on the percentage of female equity partners.

Ballard Spahr only has one partnership tier, and women comprise 26 percent of that tier. That is a 1.9 percent increase for the firm since 2011, when The American Lawyer first began tracking that data in earnest. Ballard Spahr was outpaced on the national rankings only by Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy (41.6 percent female equity partners), BuckleySandler (31.1 percent) and Holland & Hart (27.1 percent).

While having only one partnership tier would help Ballard Spahr stand out above other firms whose rankings don't reflect more junior partners who might be nonequity partners, the 26 percent still outpaces all of the other Pennsylvania firms when looking at another category tracked by The American Lawyer—the overall percentage of female partners, including both equity and nonequity.

Ballard Spahr chairman Mark Stewart attributed the firm's success in female attorney promotion to the one-tier partnership, a culture of cross-selling and a concerted effort by firm leadership to change the face of the partnership to be more inclusive.

To that end, in the latest partner promotions, set to take effect July 1, six of the nine new partners were women, with three of those being promoted while working a reduced schedule.

Lynn Rzonca, head of Ballard Spahr's women affinity group, said the announcement of those partner promotions at the annual partner meeting was profound.

"It was so visually telling that picture after picture was a woman," Rzonca said of the presentation.

Rzonca said firms have to place an emphasis on the promotion of women. She says the numbers bear out the fact that complacency can't work given about half of law school graduates are women and the numbers decline from there when looking up the ranks of law firms.

Rzonca said the firm is committed to formal and informal mentoring, including grooming female associates on business development skills from the beginning. That means making sure they have an opportunity to participate, Rzonca said.

"They might not be the star of the show at that level, but they need to see how that interaction takes place," she said. Having women in leadership roles is also important to show the women behind them that there is a path for advancement, Rzonca said.

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Diversity and Inclusion