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What makes a leader?

Some say it’s power and a strong voice. Others say it’s achievement and guidance, or innovation and creativity.

Whatever characteristics you assign to the word, one thing is clear: Leaders inspire. And inspire is exactly what the 2012 Transformative Leadership Award winners do.

In this story, InsideCounsel showcases the exceptional in-house counsel, law firm lawyers and other individuals of influence who the magazine honored at this year’s Transformative Leadership Awards dinners in Chicago and San Francisco in April and September, respectively.

These award winners are making their mark on the corporate legal profession through their devotion to initiatives promoting women and minorities in law. Through their own accomplishments and leadership skills, they are inspiring their peers and future generations of legal professionals.

Read on to learn more about how the 2012 Transformative Leadership Award winners focus on mentoring and promoting women and diverse lawyers.

Click here to watch exclusive interviews with this year’s Transformative Leadership Award winners.

Rainmaker Award

Lawrie Demorest, Partner, Alston & Bird

By the time she was in her late 30s, Lawrie Demorest was a successful litigator. But she was tired of going through the motions.

“I got to the point where every month I was going to another trial,” she says. “I was working on what was probably my 15th trial in a two-year period and found myself driving to court to begin a trial one day thinking, ‘Ugh.’ I kind of caught myself thinking that and thought, ‘OK, [I’m representing] a physician who cares very much about his reputation, and his practice is on the line. Get it together.’”

Demorest did get it together, and she ended up winning the case. But at that point she was ready to take a break from law.

“I wanted to figure out how I was going to get the most out of life and contribute the most to life,” she says.

She took a leave of absence from her job and began volunteering with the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts in Boston and the Human Rights Campaign. After a year of personal reflection, Demorest realized she missed law. “But I realized it’s OK to not focus totally on that in my life,” she says.

Ever since, Demorest has focused on imparting this wisdom on her younger colleagues. She encourages them to be thoughtful about their paths early on. “Make sure you’re being deliberate about understanding what you want and then planning a course of action,” she says. “The lawyers who do that are much more successful and much more content with where they are.”

Read Lawrie Demorest’s full Q&A here.

Rainmaker Award

Pat Gillette, Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

Six years ago, Pat Gillette set out on a big task: to change the structure of law firms in order to retain and advance women lawyers. She did so by creating the Opt-In Project, a nationwide initiative that urges law firms to make certain changes that support women lawyers’ career development, such as abandoning the billable hour, structuring pay on merit and measuring lawyers on competency rather than by how long they’ve been out of law school. 

Gillette shared her ideas at conferences, but she says it wasn’t until 2008—when the economic crisis hit—that law firms started listening. “Everybody had to rethink the costs of running law firms,” Gillette explains. “I’m proud to say that the Opt-In Project was one of the big catalysts for making a change and having a lot more firms think about measuring performance and progression differently.”

Even though many firms have changed their structures, Gillette says her work isn’t finished. She’s working on a new goal: boosting the number of women rainmakers.

“I want to get women to think about institutional power and economic power,” Gillette says. “My goal is to change the discussion and have women thinking about this from day one in their careers—‘How do I advance myself or another person into a leadership position?’ Because if we’re in the leadership positions and have a book of business, then we can make change in law firms. That’s how change is made. It’s not made by whining, it’s not made by women’s initiatives— none of that works. You have to be in the room. My goal is to get women in the room.”

Read Pat Gillette’s full Q&A here.

James M. Strother Award

Hyun Park, General Counsel, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

When Hyun Park was a young graduate of Harvard Law School beginning his career at Latham & Watkins, he quickly realized the value of building relationships with mentors and superiors.

“When I was starting out, the first couple of years I felt lost in a sea of young associates,” he says. “One of the things that helped me tremendously was that when I started to work on transactions, I built relationships with the senior partners I worked with. The law firm world and corporate world are so competitive; you can’t do it alone.”

That’s a lesson he’s carried throughout his legal career. When Park left Latham to become general counsel at Sithe Energies Inc. in 1998, he stayed in contact with the lawyers who had mentored him and helped him launch his career. He also continued to seek out new mentors, both lawyers and nonlegal executives, in his roles as general counsel of Allegheny Energy, and for the past six years as the GC of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E).

Park credits much of his success as an in-house lawyer to the relationships he’s built with his colleagues and the senior management of each company where he’s been general counsel.

“When I became a GC, I was 37, and I was still very much learning. Still today, I’m learning every day,” he says. “I would encourage any lawyer to reach out to those who have been through more battles and have more experience. Get the benefit of their advice and wisdom.”

As the GC of PG&E, Park focuses on building relationships with young lawyers from a variety of backgrounds early on. His department has established a diversity pipeline program, which brings in first-year law students for summer internships within the law department. In recent years, the program has expanded to include academic year externships for school credit. These programs have had a dual benefit—both fostering relationships between PG&E’s team and law students who may be interested in in-house careers and empowering members of his team from diverse backgrounds to take on leadership roles.

“Diversity is the sort of thing that the entire team has to embrace. It can’t be just the GC,” Park says. “When the people on my team had the idea to [start offering externship programs for credit], they worked on their own time after hours to get it started. My job was to encourage and support my team, really by empowering them and getting out of their way.” 

Going forward, mentoring will continue to play a central role in Park’s career and his dedication to fostering diversity in the legal profession.

“I want to be available as a mentor to lawyers in my department. I will try to mentor anyone who wants that sort of relationship with me, especially diverse and women lawyers,” Park says. “I’ve received so much help and support in my career, and I know how essential that is.”

Read Hyun Park’s full Q&A here.

Mary Ann Hynes Pioneer Award

Christine Edwards, Partner, Winston & Strawn

As early as her teens, Christine Edwards had her sights set on being a woman of “firsts.” 

She aspired to become the first elected woman senator from the state of Maryland, and she thought it would be smart to complete undergraduate and law school at the University of Maryland so that when she ran for election she could proudly say she was a product of the state school system. “But Barbara Mikulski beat me to it,” she says.

Fast forward to 1990, and Edwards finally achieved an admirable first—she became the first woman general counsel on Wall Street when she was hired as GC of the securities firm Dean Witter.

“In hindsight, it’s kind of cool, but it really wasn’t this monumental thing at the time,” she says. “It was just a natural progression of climbing up the corporate ladder.” 

Edwards also was the first (and so far, the only) woman GC of Morgan Stanley, the first woman GC at Bank One and the first female director of the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

In her current position as a partner at Winston & Strawn, Edwards encourages young women lawyers to pursue their career goals and claim positions that men typically fill. She also does this through her membership with The Chicago Network, a group comprising top women executives. Through this group, Edwards is working to help more women get onto corporate boards. So far, she has helped to place nine women onto boards.

“It’s an awesome effort, and I’m really proud of the organization for doing this,” she says.

Read Christine Edward’s full Q&A here.

Louise H. Renne Pioneer in the Public Sector Award

Charles Robinson, Vice President and General Counsel for Legal Affairs, University of California

Charles Robinson knows the value of good role models and mentors. He says he’s received “varied” support from his superiors as he advanced in his career. On the good side, a group of black professionals, including attorneys and judges, in his hometown of Philadelphia inspired him to become a lawyer when he chatted with them about their work. Later in life, as a lawyer at Heller Ehrman, he found mentors who taught him how to think through legal issues and instilled in him the value of pro bono work.

However, his ascent to his current position as vice president and general counsel for legal affairs at the University of California was not without obstacles. “During the time that I was in firm practice, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that I encountered another African-American or Latino lawyer in any matter that I was working on,” Robinson says. “[And] frankly, some partners were less inclined than others to give me significant client responsibility. And one can draw one’s own conclusions as to why that was.”

Now, Robinson makes himself available to mentor younger lawyers and is focused on social justice, counting among his proudest moments his time as a law clerk for Judge William Orrick, who drafted the opinion accepting school desegregation in San Francisco in 1983, and the University of California’s success in getting the state Supreme Court to allow it to continue offering in-state tuition to undocumented students.

Read Charles Robinson’s full Q&A here.

Debra L. Zumwalt Pioneer Award

Teveia Barnes, Commissioner of Financial Institutions, State of California

From a young age, Teveia Barnes knew she wanted to help people find answers. “Even as a young child, I was the person that people would go to to settle disputes,” she says. “Whenever there was a fight, they would say, ‘Let’s go ask Teveia.’” Becoming a lawyer was a natural career path, then, for Barnes, who enjoys resolving disputes so that everyone walks away happy.

Barnes says she has been blessed to have several mentors throughout her career, as she jumped around to different private practice and in-house positions before ending up as the commissioner of financial institutions for the State of California. “Without that support, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for me to achieve the successes that I have,” she says. Now, she serves as a mentor to many young women lawyers, and helps them, as well as her clients, to find the answers they seek.

“I’m there for them,” Barnes says. “I take their emails and calls very seriously. I am always very forthcoming to them, and I don’t always necessarily tell them what they want to hear.” The best advice she can offer, she says, is “listen to your heart.”

“Even the folks who would ask me things, in their heart of hearts, they knew what the right thing was, and they were looking for confirmation. Or they knew what the right thing was, but they didn’t want to do it,” she says. “But if they truly listen to their hearts, they’ll know what’s right to do.”

Read Teveia Barnes’ ful Q&A here.

Anastasia D. Kelly Award

Janet Langford Kelly, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, ConocoPhillips Co.

En route to becoming the general counsel of ConocoPhillips Co., Janet Langford Kelly says she received “the best support you could possibly get” from her own superiors.

In the ensuing years, Kelly has more than returned the favor, mentoring up-and-coming lawyers since she herself was a young partner. “I try to make sure that I offer them the same high expectations and support that I was given, and make sure that their name comes up for assignments to certain teams or a board of directors—whatever they’re ready for,” she says.

But Kelly’s advice doesn’t stop at the boardroom; she also counsels her mentees on how to achieve work-life balance, something she found especially difficult when juggling her own career with the demands of a family. “Recognize that there are going to be times in your life … when you’re going to get Cs in everything,” she advises. “But, if you’re at the place you should be, people will help support you through those short periods.”

Kelly’s commitment to advancing young lawyers earned her the Anastasia D. Kelly Award, given to a general counsel who has helped women reach senior leadership roles in law. Never one to rest on her laurels, Kelly plans to continue mentoring more rising attorneys. “I’ve so enjoyed getting to know and befriend new young lawyers, and help them,” she says. “Everybody I’ve ever mentored has given me as much as I’ve given them. And the bigger that family is, the happier I’ll be.”

Read Janet Langford Kelly’s full Q&A here.

Thomas A. Mars Award

Thomas Sabatino, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Walgreen Co.

Attorneys have a natural tendency to tell others how things should be done. But for Thomas Sabatino, executive vice president and general counsel of Walgreen Co., fighting that instinct and learning to listen has been the key to his success.

“Even if you’re the smartest guy in the room, no one wants to hear the smartest guy talking all the time,” Sabatino says. “Throughout your career, you’ll always be learning. You’ll never know everything you need to know to be the best possible lawyer.”

What Sabatino has learned throughout his career as the GC of companies such as Schering-Plough Corp., United Airlines and now Walgreens is that listening to a variety of perspectives leads to better business outcomes for his clients. Accordingly, Sabatino has been proactive about helping women lawyers and lawyers of color gain visibility within the organizations he’s helmed.

“It’s driven from a view that listening and hearing the different points of view leads to better decision-making,” he says. “How can you make a good decision if you only hear one voice, one way of looking at the world?”

One key for Sabatino is making sure that law firms understand that he is serious about working with diverse outside counsel. Walgreens sponsors an annual event where attorneys from law firms with which the company works closely give Continuing Legal Education presentations on substantive topics relevant to Walgreens’ business.

“The only presenters are women and lawyers of color who are knowledgeable in those areas,” he says. “We see the people who can do the work for us, and the firms understand that this really does matter to us. It’s about making sure that these lawyers are highlighted in their firms.”

Within Walgreens, Sabatino focuses on putting a diverse group of lawyers in positions of responsibility where they can gain visibility and showcase their talents to the organization.

“I’ve been fortunate to have mentors who have encouraged me to take chances and risks and get into the action,” Sabatino says. “The key to good mentorship is to be there to mentor and guide, and also allow people to find their place on their own. I’ve known a lot of very strong, capable lawyers in my career. My job is to open doors and put them in the place to succeed.”

Sabatino has seen real results from his efforts. When he joined Schering-Plough, less than 25 percent of the company’s lawyers were women. By the time the company merged with Merck & Co. Inc., more than half of the lawyers were women.

“We both recruited new people and developed key talent from within—people who had not been noticed,” Sabatino says.

The proudest moments of Sabatino’s career are seeing lawyers whom he’s mentored achieve great things.

“The moments I remember are when people I’ve worked with go on and succeed,” he says. “For instance, Jan Reid, who was the corporate secretary at Baxter, left and became GC and head of HR at Solo Cup Co. It’s really cool to talk with her and share experiences. I’m proud of that like a parent.”

Read Tom Sabatino’s full Q&A here.

Laura Stein Award

Karen Cottle, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Adobe Systems Inc. and Mary Doyle, Vice President, Legal, Chief Compliance & Ethics Officer, Oracle Corp.

It can be lonely at the top, as Karen Cottle and Mary Doyle know all too well. As legal leaders at their respective companies (Cottle is general counsel at Adobe Systems Inc., and Doyle is the vice president of legal and chief compliance & ethics officer at Oracle Corp.), the two women felt that the only people who really understood their jobs were other GCs and CLOs. Inspired by an American Bar Association event she attended called “DirectWomen,” where many senior women on corporate boards were in one room, networking and discussing issues, Cottle approached Doyle about creating a group of women GCs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thus, Dinner Among Friends was born.

Once a quarter or so, the group has dinner together to mentor one another, network and chat. Both Cottle and Doyle began their careers in law firm practice, and through Dinner Among Friends, they try to direct business to women partners at firms. “We had the first dinner and really shut down the restaurant because it was such a great conversation,” Cottle says.

Peers served as great mentors for Doyle long before Dinner Among Friends was even an email thread. She says her peers, along with her superiors, have provided her with support since the very beginning. “We sat around and talked about what we were doing, and why we were doing it, the best way to do it, the best way to learn more,” she says. “That was a very stimulating environment for me. Very encouraging, very supportive.”

Some of the issues that women in the legal industry face are perfectionism and work-life balance. “It’s tough to have it all,” Cottle says. “So you have to decide what your priorities are and what gives. My view is, you can’t have it all and be perfect.”

“Probably the biggest obstacle that anyone has to face is themselves,” Doyle adds. To younger women lawyers, she advises, “know your strengths … then look for a role in an enterprise you care about that makes good use of what you do best.”

Although gender equality is still very much a problem in the legal industry, Doyle says a law degree is a great asset for women who want to be taken seriously in the workplace. “A law degree can bring you instant credibility in any number of fields, from law firm practice and investment banking, to government service and public interest work, not to mention in-house practice at companies big and small,” she says.

“Attitude is everything,” Cottle adds. “Don’t think of yourself as a female lawyer—think of yourself as a great lawyer.”

Read Mary Doyle’s full Q&A here.

Read Karen Cottle’s full Q&A here.

Sharing the Power Award

Megan Belcher, VP and Chief Employment Counsel at ConAgra Foods Inc., and Nicky Jatana, Partner at Jackson Lewis

Megan Belcher and Nicky Jatana met when they were both young associates at law firms—Husch Blackwell and Jackson Lewis, respectively. Belcher was working as a temporary in-house attorney on loan from Husch Blackwell. Jatana was outside counsel for a lawsuit in which the client was involved. Working on that matter together, they were impressed with each other’s proactive approach to litigation. They stayed in touch after the resolution of that case, referring clients to each other when matters arose in their respective locations—Jatana in Southern California and Belcher in Kansas City.

Over the past 10 years, the two women have fostered a lasting strategic partnership based on a shared love for employment law and a belief in the power of building relationships.

“This area of law is very competitive,” Jatana says. “You have to distinguish yourself in some way and really work on building relationships. Ultimately, if you genuinely value the relationships you build with your clients rather than looking at it as a means to an end, that’s a recipe for success.”

Today, Belcher is chief employment counsel at ConAgra Foods Inc., and she continues to value the trusting relationship she’s built with Jatana. Jatana is one of ConAgra’s go-to outside counsel for employment issues.

“Her proactiveness and client-management skills have made her a true strategic partner,” Belcher says. “She and her team are proactively looking at our needs.”

Jatana and Belcher both recognize that providing successful counsel to their clients on employment matters requires bringing a variety of life perspectives and points of view to the analysis of any workplace issue. To that end, Belcher has focused on ensuring that a diverse group of attorneys are contributing to ConAgra’s legal team.

“My department is primarily a department of women,” Belcher says. “Nicky also has a diverse team at Jackson Lewis. We not only have a diverse group doing the work, but also taking leadership roles.”

Belcher and Jatana are also taking steps to bring other women attorneys together to help one another develop their careers. The two women also have worked together on the labor and employment committee of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Belcher chairs the committee, and Jackson Lewis sponsors it. In addition, Jatana has chaired Jackson Lewis’ Women’s Employment Law Conference, which brings inside and outside counsel together to talk about issues impacting women professionals in the workplace and substantive employment law issues.

“It’s been very helpful,” Jatana says. “Women tend to bond on different levels than you would with your male counterparts. The mentoring I’ve received over the years was invaluable to me, and I’d like to give back.”

Pamela L. Carter Award

Vicki O’Meara, Executive Vice President and President, Pitney Bowes Services Solutions

For Vicki O’Meara, flexibility is the name of the game. She took a circuitous path to her current role as executive vice president and president, Pitney Bowes Services Solutions. She started her career in the Army General Counsel’s office, fulfilling the terms of her ROTC scholarship while simultaneously making contacts in government and environmental law, both areas that she worked in before heading in-house.

O’Meara has also been fortunate enough to be able to carve out time for her family without sacrificing her career. After returning from her first maternity leave to her job at Jones Day, she realized she could no longer do the 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. grind she’d been doing before she had her son. She began scaling back her hours at the office and decided to ask her adviser how this was working out before she started looking for another job. “He had no idea what I was talking about,” she says. “I said, ‘You’ve not noticed anything different?’ He goes, ‘No, are you okay?’ I said, ‘Never mind.’”

Another time, she wanted to leave her partnership and become a staff lawyer, because the job was getting too demanding. But the partners liked her and wanted to accommodate her, and she left the meeting with a job as head of her division.

“Obviously it’s not a path anyone can replicate,” O’Meara says. “The only lesson one can take from it is don’t let the work regimen define you. You’ll be surprised. People will adapt and adjust if they view you as a contributor.”

Read Vicki O’Meara’s full Q&A here.

Firm Wide Policies Award

SNR Denton and Winston & Strawn

Diversity has long been a focus at SNR Denton and Winston & Strawn. So it’s not surprising that the two law firms received this year’s Firm Wide Policies Award.

SNR Denton is increasing its efforts to place women lawyers in leadership roles within its offices.

“We believe our most successful women lawyers who are also leaders can mentor all of our women lawyers and ensure that there’s a path for their advancement within the law firm,” says Elliott Portnoy, global chief executive and partner at SNR Denton.

Firm-hosted events centered on “Courageous Counsel”—a book that SNR Denton Partner Kara Baysinger co-authored last year with Michele Coleman Mayes, the former general counsel of Allstate Insurance Co.—have inspired the firm’s lawyers and other women in the industry to aim high.

Winston & Strawn also prides itself on various women-focused initiatives. Earlier this year, the firm revamped its reduced-hours and family-leave policies to attract and retain more women lawyers.

The firm designated partners in each of its offices as reduced-hours coordinators who help facilitate schedules and serve as liaisons between lawyers working reduced hours and their bosses. The firm applied the same coordinator program to its family-leave policy and began providing four hours of personal coaching to lawyers coming back from leave to help them transition.

Winston & Strawn aims to further empower its women lawyers by encouraging them to strive for leadership positions in the firm. “The percentage of women on boards and in the most powerful committees of organizations is a problem for all businesses in this country, but it seems like law firms trail even further behind on that score,” says Amanda Groves, a partner at Winston & Strawn and chair of the firm’s Diversity Committee.