Women are rising faster in the ranks of corporate legal departments than they are at large law firms.

Women lead the legal departments at 21 percent of Fortune 500 companies — up from 17 percent in 2009, according to a survey published in the April issue of Corporate Counsel.

Meanwhile, female lawyers made up 17 percent of equity partners at the nation’s 200 largest law firms in 2013 — nearly the same as the 16 percent reported in 2009, according to data compiled by the National Association of Women Lawyers. An even smaller percentage of those law firms have a woman in the top leadership position — around 4 or 5 percent, according to a NAWL survey published in 2012, the most recent year for which such data was available.

Four of the 17 largest corporations have female general counsel or chief legal officers, including Karen Roberts at Wal-Mart Stores. And five major companies in the aerospace and defense industry, which has historically been among those with the most rigid glass ceilings, have women as their top in-house lawyers: Kate Adams of Honeywell International, Ruth Beyer of Precision Castparts, Sheila Cheston of Northrop Grumman, Ann Davidson of Exelis and Maryanne Lavan at Lockheed Martin.

Catholic University to offer master’s in legal studies

Starting this summer, Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law will offer a master’s degree in legal studies, a program aimed at people who are interested in the law, but do not wish to be a practicing lawyer.

There are about 30 law schools around the country that offer similar programs, but Catholic is the first in the Washington area to do so. The 15-month program will initially focus on intellectual property law and is expected to expand into other areas. It is designed to accommodate part-time students.

“As the legal profession evolves, the need for non-J.D. professionals with a working knowledge of the law is increasing,” Dean Daniel F. Attridge said in a statement.

The masters program is shorter and less expensive than the J.D. track at Catholic — it costs $23,790 for 26 units, compared to about $44,000 a year for full-time J.D. students.