From setting the path to success in the first days as chief compliance officer (CCO) and drawing from the habits of attorneys who have built successful practices to focusing on lifting up all minority groups, including women, in the workplace or earlier in their educations, these women leaders in law shared wise words worthy of reflection as we enter 2017.

Megan Belcher, former ‎vice president and chief counsel, employment law and compliance at ConAgra Foods, on avoiding the trap of bad advice: 

“… Although hard work and having the right technical chops are certainly the cost of entry for success in the law, it is by no means the sole ingredients in the recipe that get you to a leadership role and position of influence in your organization.

What’s more, a cocktail of increasingly harder work and striving to achieve some mythically Zen state of an infallible practitioner is nothing but a path to burnout. This applies particularly to lawyers that seek to make the shift to becoming a leader of teams.”

Kristin Coleman, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Sears Holding Co., on the importance of knowing your audience to get ahead: 


“Raise your hand but raise it well. Think about your message.  Know your audience. I got my first GC job by asking, but I didn’t get it when I asked. Don’t assume just because you take a risk and you maybe fail a little bit that you aren’t going to succeed down the road.”


Suzanne Folsom, GC of U.S. Steel, on setting the path for success in the first 100 days as CCO: 


“Since culture change is often best begun when the culture is most problematic, new compliance heads must determine what specific tasks need to be tackled soonest and what is realistically achievable in the first 100 days. Even before showing up for work, the CCO has significant research to do in learning as much about the business as possible.

… He or she must have specific awareness, ideally before Day One, of all pending or recently concluded regulatory or enforcement actions. Expect transparency from colleagues at this early stage; anything less may well be a warning sign.” 

Cass Hollis of Fisher & Phillips on returning to the practice of law after taking an eight-year hiatus to raise her children. 


“It’s nice to see that making that decision did not cost me the opportunity to go back. It was the right decision for us at the time,” she told The Daily Report.

… While I was out, the Affordable Care Act came into play in the benefits realm—and now it may go out of play. It’s an ever-changing landscape.

…I’m taking it one day at a time and trying to be patient with myself.” 

Professor Anita Hill on the need to fund and enforce compliance with Title IX gender-equality provisions at universities, and with lifting up all minority groups, including women, in the workplace or earlier in their educations. 


“I have power over not only my life but over the possibility of changing institutions that I’m a part of. Just think about how you can improve your situation in your workplace, not only for yourself, but for a future generation of women who are going to be where you’re sitting in the next five, 10, 20 years.”


Maryanne Lavan, senior vice president and general counsel, Lockheed Martin, on getting more opportunities by “raising your hand” to get noticed:


“I always had that voice in my head, ‘can I do this?’ Over time, I started to get more confident. So the voice has to start changing…by getting experiences all along the way and developing it into your own style. But I think there comes a point in your career where you have to raise your hand and say, ‘would you consider me for that?’”

Lisa Murphy, vice president and deputy general counsel of Cambia Health Solutions, on doing more with less: 

“Shrinking budgets and the continued pressure to do more, or to be more efficient, have forced legal to be treated, and treat itself, like the other departments. It’s not so much about ‘selling’ our value per se, as much as it’s about raising awareness on all the projects, deals, and initiatives that legal has spear-headed and closed and how legal helped to navigate or avoid potential disasters. It’s critical that we illuminate the business about the great work we are doing.”

Cynthia Sharp, CEO of The Sharper Lawyer, on the importance of asking probing questions and habits shared by attorneys who have built successful practices: 

“Questions asked throughout the relationship should be designed to engage the client’s thought processes and lead toward a formal working relationship.

My favorite go-to question when meeting new prospects is, “What is the biggest challenge that you are facing in your industry/business?” Answers to this simple open-ended question are educational and position us to understand the client’s needs so that we can demonstrate that we are the right attorney to prevent or solve their problems.”

Kathleeen Wu, partner at Andrews Kurth, on whether the best and brightest women are skipping law school altogether:

“So we’re missing out on a chunk of women who are perfectly qualified and interested in graduate-level education, but just aren’t interested in going into the law. Are we missing out on the best and brightest women?

…There was a time when every smart girl I knew wanted to be a lawyer. It was seen as the ticket to success. In fact, being a lawyer was the definition of success. Granted, in hindsight, that was youthful naiveté, but it was the image I grew up with and aspired to—and I have to admit that I’m a little sad at its apparent passing.”