Finishing law school and passing the bar exam are just the first steps on the long road — generally taking about 10 years — toward partnership in one of Texas’ largest firms. But racking up billable hours is not all it takes to become a partner in a large firm, says Todd Chen, a corporate shareholder in the Houston office of Winstead.
“With my Eastern culture, the philosophy is that generally hard work will get you results, will get you success,” Chen says. “Hard work does not distinguish you in a law firm; for the most part everybody works pretty hard.” Chen says the formula for success is multifaceted. “When you’re aspiring to be a partner, you have to know how to bring business to the firm, how to be a leader in your firm and how to get along with everyone,” he says.
At Dallas-based Winstead, 12.1 percent of the firm’s Texas equity partners are minorities. Winstead is one of the 25 largest firms in Texas, as listed on Texas Lawyer‘s The Texas 100 poster, published in April 2012. Twenty-one of the 25 firms provided gender and ethnic information about their partners in Texas Lawyer‘s 2012 Women & Minorities survey. Minority lawyers made up 17 percent of the active members of the State Bar of Texas (SBOT), as of Dec. 31, 2011, the latest figures available, according to SBOT statistics. Five of Texas’ large firms, including Winstead, report that minority lawyers make up 10 or more percent of their Texas equity partners. At the remaining large firms, minorities are a smaller percentage of the equity partnership.
The other four firms and the percent of minority equity partners in each firm’s Texas offices are: Andrews Kurth, 10.4 percent; Baker Botts, 10 percent; Greenberg Traurig, 17 percent; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 10.3 percent. [See the related chart "Minority Lawyers at Large Firms in Texas."]
Below, an equity minority partner or shareholder at each of the five firms talks about their career path and shares advice for associates, particularly minority associates, on partnership tracks.
Todd Chen: Winstead
Todd Chen says he was a Thompson & Knight partner in Houston when he made a lateral move to join Winstead as a shareholder in 2010. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 2001 and started his career as an associate in the Houston office of Chamberlain Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Martin (now Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry), where he had been a 2000 summer associate. He is chairman of the firm’s technology industry group.
Chen says mentors have been an important part of his success, in both the firm and in the community. “It is especially critical for minority associates, because it’s not maybe as natural to bond with partners; there are just fewer of us,” he says. “It takes a little bit of extra effort to find people who are interested in you and will mentor you.”
Roland Garcia: Greenberg Traurig
When Miami-based Greenberg Traurig opened an office in Houston in 2005, Roland Garcia joined the firm as a litigation shareholder. He had graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1986 and had previously worked in the Houston offices of Vinson & Elkins and Locke Liddell & Sapp (now Locke Lord). Garcia advises associates that first impressions last a long time.
“Be prepared for everything you do, no matter how large or small, no matter if it is related to your profession or a board or a committee,” Garcia says. “You never know where a relationship will take you. You want to excel at all that you do.” For minority associates he also says, “The only additional thing they may want to do is seek out a mentor because a lot of minorities want to see other minorities succeed. Find a mentor, listen to your mentor and work with your mentor. And then later, be a mentor, because it all comes around.”
Lino Mendiola: Andrews Kurth
Lino Mendiola graduated from Harvard Law School in 1994 and was a clerk for then-Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips. He became an associate in 1995 in the Austin office of Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton and was with the firm when it merged in 2001 with Andrews Kurth. He became an Andrews Kurth public law partner in 2003 and his practice is focused on energy litigation.
“There is an assertiveness that minority lawyers can benefit from,” Mendiola says. “I encourage them to be assertive in practice development and not be shy about marketing themselves in the law firm to other lawyers, even at the risk of being overly assertive.” Mendiola notes that he is the first lawyer in his family.
“Minorities may not have the family or social history of working in a professional career,” Mendiola says. “There is a little bit of effort that is required to be comfortable and to view yourself as a legitimate, large-law-firm attorney and partner candidate.”
Weil, Gotshal & Manges
Ostolaza is a 1992 graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and has spent her entire legal career with New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges, beginning as a 1991 summer associate with the firm in Dallas. She became a partner in 2000 and is co-head of the firm’s complex commercial litigation practice and a member of the firm’s management committee.
When she was an associate, Ostolaza says, “I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I was a minority and I was different. To me, the fact that I came from a different background and had a different language was a positive.” Ostolaza says she encourages associates to make an effort to understand that people have different backgrounds and perspectives.
“I tell people to find mentors within the firm, not only mentors that look like them, but people who are quite different from them,” she says. “Try to find out what their point of view is on how to be successful, while still keeping what makes you unique and different and not losing that.”
Cristina Rodriguez: Baker Botts
Cristina Rodriguez is a 1995 Harvard Law School graduate. She clerked for a year for Judge James Lawrence King, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, before joining Baker Botts’ Houston office in 1996. She had been a summer associate in the firm’s Houston office in 1994 and became a partner in 2003.
“Be visible, walk the halls, invite people out to have lunch . . . don’t set yourself up to fall through the cracks, be visible from the beginning,” Rodriguez advises associates. “Develop your affinity group relationships both inside and outside the firm, which will help build a critical network. I encourage young minority lawyers to focus on developing that network early.”
Rodriguez recommends that associates find a champion with whom they have a working relationship or some other shared interest. She says that most partners are flattered when an associate approaches them and says, “I respect what you’ve accomplished in your career, I would like to have a path like yours. Will you help me?”