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Expand chart
Data: Afra Afsharipour, Women and M&A; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Consider the most prestigious role on the most prestigious deals at the most prestigious companies in the most prestigious profession. In other words: The job of lead counsel on big-ticket M&A transactions. That position is still overwhelmingly held by men, 30 years after women became roughly half of all law students.

Why it matters: The asymmetry is hardly confined to the legal profession. CEOs, boards of directors, M&A investment bankers — all are dominated by men. But a new study has now released quantitative data on just how male the senior lawyers involved are.

What they found: UC Davis law professor Afra Afsharipour examined the 100 biggest deals where U.S. companies were acquired for each year from 2014 to 2020. Overall, women served as lead partners on just 10.5% of those deals. That's about half the rate at which women make partner at law firms.

What they're saying: "These are all large 'bet the company' type transactions that are predominantly led by lawyers who have the most significant clout and power in a large law firm," writes Afsharipour.

Between the lines: In general, the representation of women in law firms decreases the further up the ranks you look. That doesn't stop when they become partner — the most senior partners are much more male-dominated than partners generally.

By the numbers: Davis Polk touts its “commitment to developing, retaining and promoting women,” and has won the Gold Standard award from the Women in Law Empowerment Forum eight times. For six successive years between 2014 and 2019, however, not a single woman from Davis Polk served as lead counsel on a major M&A deal.

  • At Wachtell, the top M&A law firm in the world, six women led 13 deals between 2014 and 2020 — an average of just 2.2 deals per woman over seven years. By contrast 40 men led 299 deals between them, or 7.5 deals per male partner.

The bottom line: As one American Lawyer article put it: “If having a strong female mentor in a position of authority, such as the lead on a deal and the owner of a client relationship, is paramount to facilitating other women into that position, you first need to have enough women in those prominent roles. There are not.”

Go deeper

Sep 19, 2021 - World

Taliban forces Kabul's female city employees out of their jobs

Afghan female activists gather in Kabul to protest against Taliban restrictions on Sept. 19. Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

New restrictions issued by the Taliban on Sunday will force the majority of Kabul's female municipal workers out of their jobs, the Associated Press reported.

Why it matters: Despite the Taliban's efforts to cast a more tempered image this time around, vowing to respect women's rights within Islamic "frameworks," the restrictions are the latest sign the group is returning to the oppressive tactics it used when last in power, from 1996 to 2001.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
29 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Mary Altaffer - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that his country "will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad" and plans to boost support for clean energy in developing nations.

Why it matters: The pledge, if maintained, would mark a breakthrough in efforts to transition global power away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.

House Democrats strip Iron Dome money from government funding bill

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats on Tuesday stripped $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system from its short-term government funding bill after backlash from progressives, people familiar with the decision tell Axios.

Why it matters: There has never a situation where military aid for Israel was held up because of objections from members of Congress. While the funding will get a vote in its current defense bill, the clash underscores the deep divisions within the Democratic party over Israel.

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