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The Recorder recently invited a group of Bay Area attorneys to discuss the current state of glass-ceiling issues facing female lawyers who practice in firms, corporate law departments and government agencies. What follows is an edited version of that discussion. The complete two-hour recording is available as a CLE program in audio, video and online formats. For further information, call (415)749-5406 or go to www.law.com/recordercle. Angela Bradstreet: Although about half of today’s law school students are women, there are still enormous disparities at the top of the legal profession, and the glass ceiling remains largely intact. A recent study by the National Association for Law Placement found that women account for fewer than 17 percent of partners at large law firms. And the American Bar Association has found that only 5 percent of managing partners of large law firms are women. Women account for barely 13 percent of general counsel at Fortune 500 companies. Margaret, your firm [Folger Levin & Kahn] has made tremendous strides for years in this regard. How have you done it? Margaret Murray: To put it simply, we’ve hired women. When we have done our recruiting over years, we have sought to hire the best-qualified candidates, and those have just happened to be roughly half women. I think the fact that we’ve always had a sort of critical mass of women lawyers has been critical to our success. We don’t think about it. We don’t feel that we’re treated any differently from anybody else. Our work assignments are no different. Our quality of life is no different. And so it has always been kind of a non-issue, I think, for women. Women in our firm sit on all of the committees that govern the firm. They chair some of the significant committees in the firm. There are women who run practice groups, and there are women in corner offices. Bradstreet: I wish all firms were like yours. But studies by the ABA have shown that women are leaving law firms in higher numbers, generally, than men. Would anyone on the panel like to jump in here with some observations about retention and what we can do in that regard? Cassandra Joseph: The attorney general’s office has some fantastic policies involving flextime, part time and telecommuting, which I think have helped to retain not only women lawyers but all lawyers in the office. These policies allow people to create their own schedules and figure out what works best for them so that they can balance a family or an outside life as well as work. The policy was originally set up several years ago to reduce traffic congestion — flextime first came up because there was too much traffic during peak hours. But I think the attorney general’s office has now recognized much more important benefits — allowing people, especially women attorneys, to stay with the office. It has not only helped with retention. It has also helped to attract attorneys. Bradstreet: Michael, you have some experiences in that regard at your firm. Do you think the concept of part-time partners is a reality that firms have to grapple with? Michael Hallerud: I think the part-time issue is over. By that I mean the battle to offer part-time policies is done, at least in the large firms. This is not an issue any longer. Part time has been accepted since the late 1980s or early 1990s in the larger firms. That doesn’t mean that individual lawyers who may feel they need a more balanced schedule aren’t reluctant to take advantage of that kind of opportunity. Some might feel it’s a “mommy track,” which is one of the derogatory terms often assigned to part-time programs. Or they may feel that part-time employment suggests to others a part-time commitment to the firm. It’s the responsibility of law firm management to make sure that part-time programs are available. In fact, they should probably stop calling them that and start referring to them by a different name, perhaps the “balanced hours” program or “flexible hours” program. Call it something that allows people to adapt to the needs that they have in their other roles in life, be it mother, father or even someone who is spending a large amount of time in bar association activities. Joseph: That’s a really important point. If it’s only women taking advantage of these policies, then suddenly there’s a stereotype around it. Or people will be afraid to make use of these policies, and there’s no benefit to a policy if it’s just sitting there. What’s really important is that the policies are not just in place, but that they’re actually being used and that there is no stigma attached to them. If we can achieve that, I think we’ve come a long way. Murray: People who are denied that benefit may leave and take business with them. At our firm, the continuity that we achieve as a result of low attorney turnover rates is really critical to our building and maintaining relationships with our clients. They like to know that five years down the road they can call and still find me or one of my colleagues who they talked with about a previous problem. Hallerud: Margaret, you mentioned before that it’s not enough to just hire women. Hiring women is easy, there’s nothing to it. Half of the candidates you get out of law school are women. So you’d actually have to work at it to avoid hiring women in roughly 50/50 proportions. The key is retaining women. The key is actually retaining all of your lawyers. If we could reduce our turnover we could increase our profitability dramatically. We would decrease our billing rates, but we would increase our profitability. If part-time programs help retain lawyers and motivate lawyers and humanize an environment that too often, at least in large firms, seems to be focused on the bottom line, then those programs are worth every penny. In fact they return dollars for every penny that’s spent. Bradstreet: Julie, perhaps you can add a corporate perspective to all of this in terms of supporting and promoting women. Julie Kanberg: Gap is a company that’s very committed to diversity, generally. I’ve been at Gap for about 11 1/2 years and have never felt at all like I was limited in any way by being a woman. I think in large part that’s because we’ve had so many women at executive levels who serve as role models. I think there’s also been a culture that encourages a work-life balance, perhaps more so than is traditional in firms. There’s a perception that when you work inhouse you have more of an opportunity to balance your life. While there are still challenges with that, I think without the billing hour pressure it’s perhaps a bit more achievable. But I think the real keys are having women who are mentors and having women throughout the organization who are models that you can follow. Bradstreet: I’ll never forget something that Gap’s general counsel, Lauri Shanahan, mentioned during a panel similar to this one a couple of months ago. She said, “Why is it that, as women, we sometimes feel compelled to give this long explanation of why we won’t be in until 10 in the morning or why we need to leave at 4 in the afternoon. I can’t think of any male attorneys who would say, �I just want you to know I have to leave at 4 to go pick up my kid or to go do this or that that.’ They just go. They don’t even say anything.” Susan Spaeth: If women who have kids are close to making their minimum hour, they may worry about it as opposed to men who don’t seem compelled to say — perhaps because they don’t feel the pressure from their firms in the same way — things like, “Oh, it’s because I went home early to care of my child.” Instead, men just say, “I didn’t hit my minimum” or “I didn’t hit the next number that I wanted to hit.” I think women feel compelled to be more open, not only when it comes to working part time but also on everything that they’re doing — how they’re setting up their practice and their work. Bradstreet: Susan, you’ve faced some hurdles that some others have not because of the fact that your firm specializes in patent litigation. Spaeth: To begin with, 50 percent of our applicants are not women. That’s because we are an IP specialty firm, which means that 75 percent of our attorneys have technical degrees as well as law degrees. If you want to be a patent attorney, you have to have the requisite technical degree. In some of our groups — litigation and biotech, for example — the applicants probably are close to being 50 percent women, and our associate classes are looking very close to 50 percent women. But in our electronics group, which is electrical engineering, physics, computer software, we don’t have very many women applicants. And so we struggle not only to find women and minority attorneys where we can but to retain everyone as well. We revamped our mentoring program a few years ago. Every associate, along with every patent agent who’s not yet an attorney, has a mentor at our firm. If you’re a first- or second-year associate, you have a senior associate mentor. We have not yet assigned mentors based on sex or race. We let people self-identify their mentors. On the other hand, I know that all the women partners are very committed to the other women attorneys, and we all serve as informal mentors every day. Bradstreet: Let’s spend a few minutes on the subject of rainmaking. Margaret, I know that you think of this as sort of the last frontier for women in the profession. I think this can also bring into play some of our own internal glass ceilings. I think women are extraordinarily good at networking. We’re extraordinarily good at setting up lunches and doing things like that. But in terms of actually getting out and saying, “I’m really good, you really should hire me, this is what I can do for you and I’ll do a great job for you,” I think there is sometimes a reticence on our part to do that. Hallerud: I don’t think there is any distinction to be made here between men and woman. I know a lot of men who simply are not good at closing the creation of a client relationship. They just don’t know how to ask. I put myself in that category. We have a number of major clients that are very vocal about making sure that the firms with whom they partner on a business basis reflect the demographics of the community, of their own in-house staff and of the profession as it ought to be, not necessarily how it is. Law firms that don’t just bring forward the token Latina or the token African-American to a beauty contest but that have a true commitment to having a diverse work force are going to be more successful in attracting businesses from the more progressive companies. When you have that kind of momentum and that kind of impetus, it’s not hard to ask for work. As a practicing lawyer I really don’t care a whit whether the person with whom I’m working is male or female, a person of color or a person who is straight or homosexual. I could care less. But as a law firm manager, I have discovered that I have a very different responsibility. You have to show the flag. You have to lead from the top down. It’s important that you be a mentor or that you be visible to the persons who are considered to be disadvantaged historically in terms of access to the upper levels of the profession. You do that by working with them and by taking care of their needs. And when you do that and lead from the top down, it becomes much easier for everyone else in your law firm, in your government office or in your corporation to not care a whit about whether the person with whom they are working or for whom they’re working is male or female, white or a person of color, straight or gay. Because they know that the management of the organization doesn’t care a whit. Except to not care a whit, you have to care very deeply. Bradstreet: How do you make sure that women and minorities are, either inadvertently or subconsciously, not being given the same work assignment responsibilities or access to clients that perhaps white males might be? Hallerud: What you have to do, at the beginning at least, is rely on the good faith of the people that are doing this. It’s also important to have institutions in place within a law firm, government law office or corporation that will find out what the perceptions are of the women or the minority attorneys. The fact that you perceive that women are not being given their fair share of the choice assignments — whether you’re right or wrong is irrelevant. If women perceive it, then it is a reality. So you have institutions such as diversity committees or women’s forums that provide women an opportunity to go to their mentors or to go to more senior women or minority lawyers and voice these concerns so that they are aired within the firm and people are sensitized to the concern. At our law firm if you want to know what it is to be a successful, high-powered real estate partner with a large book of business, you don’t want to look like me. You want to be an Asian female because that’s the role model for a successful real estate partner. And when you have that, it automatically sustains the momentum that gives women the same opportunities without anyone really having to pay attention to it. Spaeth: I think it takes white men standing up in firm meetings and saying some of that stuff. At one of our firm retreats about a decade ago, the subject of diversity came up and the question arose of what do you do when the client is reticent about a particular attorney because she is a women or because he or she is a minority attorney? One of the most powerful rainmakers in the firm said, “I tell them if they want to work with me, they have to work with whomever I think is the best talent for the team. Or I tell them I won’t work with them if they care about such things.” The fact that I remember that comment out of all the comments at that hourlong session 10 years ago is telling. It mattered to me and it mattered to the other women and minority associates. Hallerud: The most important thing for the retrograde white male, which is my job here on the panel, is to convince those people that if they are not going to do these things for the right reasons, if they are not going to treat women fairly in the workplace and treat them the way that you would insist that your mother, your sister, or for guys at my age, your daughter be treated, then let’s make the business case for it. When they understand that it is good business to promote people based on their skills and to reach out to make sure that you have a workforce that reflects the demographics of your profession, your community and your clients, when the clients tell you that in meetings that it is important to them, then the people who are not prepared to embrace diversity as a goal for the right reasons will at least embrace diversity for more mercenary reasons. Joseph: I wanted to add that there are things that women bring to the table that men can’t. In our office, we often have to interview witnesses. And there have been times when I’ve thought that if a male attorney is chosen to go, that can be very intimidating because of the perception that some people might have about men in the attorney general’s office. So our office can use that to their advantage by sending me or another woman to interview this witness because we appear more non-threatening. It’s more efficient because I can get the same information, perhaps more information, so that we don’t end up having to subpoena them and spending extra time and money. Murray: I want to go back to this question of whether there is a gender difference when it comes to asking for business or closing a deal. I think one advantage women do have, and this is stereotypical, but I think to some extent it’s still true, is that they are more focused on relationships and on developing relationships. I’ve found in my own practice that once that relationship is established, there’s no concern about my asking if a piece of business appears. I feel very comfortable telling someone that I think I am the best person and that our firm is the best firm to do that work. I have more difficulty when it comes to starting the relationship. Why is it hard to be in an environment that you perceive as more competitive? This is also kind of stereotypical, but I think it’s still true for women of my generation that we haven’t really learned how to compete. We haven’t learned to feel comfortable with competition. Bradstreet: One of my best friends is the owner of a bank in the East Bay and it took me years to ask her for business. You know why? Because I was afraid that it would affect our friendship. Now, I have never heard any of my male counterparts come in and say, “Gee, I really can’t ask my buddy for business because I worry that it’s going to destroy our friendship.” It took me years to say to my friend, “Why the hell aren’t you using me?” And she looked at me and said, “You’re right.” Kanberg: One of the things that always had been intimidating to me in working at a firm was the whole idea of having to develop business. When you work in house, you’ve got this ready-made client. But I think part of the reason why so many of the women attorneys who work at the Gap have been successful is that they’ve been very good at developing relationships, which is key to working with our business partners. It’s similar to what you were saying, Cassandra, about having to talk to people who may be very uncomfortable being around lawyers. In our case, we have to figure out how to make others comfortable and help them understand that we’re on the same team and that we’re just trying to help them. I think the lawyers in our department have been really terrific at being able to build relationships. That has helped us to get the work done and, I think, has really helped the company. Bradstreet: Michael, your firm showed the biggest increase in the number of women partners and in management in the last year. How did you do it? Hallerud: Well we did exactly what Margaret said we should do. We hired women. But it’s more than that. What you have to do, whether it’s male or female hires, is to hire good people. And if you’re going to hire the very best women that you can attract, you have to have a place that is hospitable to women. These are the same kinds of things that attract some of our associates coming out of law schools. They see women in positions of authority. They see women doing interesting and challenging work. That increases the commitment and loyalty of the people you hire, male or female. With retention you get tenure, and with tenure you get advancement, not just into the partnership but also advancement within the partnership ranks. And when you have that, then you can attract more women. So it is a process of not just building a pipeline but making sure that all of the machinery of the firm is geared to attracting the best people. When you have a pipeline that includes half women and you retain the very best people, in time half of those very best people will be women. Spaeth: Firms also need to give women opportunities to serve on partner compensation committees or become the managing partner of an office or a practice group leader so that you can help to grow the next generation of the top leaders of the firm. Hallerud: The real question that shows a firm’s commitment and interest in diversity, along with its interest in having a meritocracy, is what percentage of women is the firm attracting as lateral partners? As you know, the partnership structure in law firms is very hierarchical. As you get closer to the top of the pyramid, there are fewer people. Since it takes time to work your way to that level of experience, competency, skill development, recognition by your peers and the opportunity to develop business, that means the track on which you would have to run goes back 20 years or longer, to a time when there was only a small percentage of women in law schools. The absolute numbers of women who have accumulated the experiences and that sort of thing to reach the upper levels of the law firm are much smaller than those who are qualified to enter the profession. At our firm over the last six years, 40 percent of the lateral partners that we have brought in are women. I don’t know whether that’s an accident or not. Again, once you’ve started the process of having a meritocracy in which race or gender matters not at all and you actually achieve results, it becomes self-sustaining for all the reasons previously mentioned. Spaeth: I think it’s important to do what Thelen did, which is to not only talk to your partners about diversity being the right thing to do but about diversity being the smart business thing to do. We have a client who not only says they want diversity, but that requires me to fill out a form every six months that asks how many hours were billed by women and minority attorneys. What level are they? Are they partners or associates? I care deeply that we have the minority and women attorneys that make that sheet look good every six months. I have to make that sheet look good, and it’s something that I can be proud to sign and send to the client. Hallerud: Maybe we should be focusing on something other than glass ceiling roundtables where women feel this is a perfect place to come and listen to the choir singing exactly the same tune that they sing. We should find a way to have a roundtable where the target audience is men. Bring them to a program like this and teach them about the glass ceiling and have them listen to these things. Have male and female panelists who will explain the business case for diversity. [Editor's note: A handful of men attended TheRecorder's live-audience Glass Ceiling Roundtable from which this transcript was prepared. However, women comprised the vast majority of the audience.] Murray: I was curious to ask Julie whether her colleagues — other lawyers in the general counsel’s office — feel the way that Susan’s clients apparently do about diversity being an important value. We’ve thought at our firm that we haven’t done a sufficiently good job in making known our wonderful numbers and statistics and that we haven’t really capitalized on that from a business development perspective. Kanberg: I think there’s certainly a sense of commitment, though I think we can probably do a better job. Our employment group probably does the best job, but I think we can probably do better when we meet with outside counsel to interview them, making sure we’re asking all these questions and asking them for this report card. I think it’s a great idea. Hallerud: I think you find that the in-house related diversity initiatives are skewed toward the corporations that have large legal departments. It’s not that the smaller groups are not sensitive to it or that it’s not an issue for them. But they’ve got too many other things going on. They don’t have a large staff of their own to nurture, develop, attract, retain, and so their focus is very different. But the corporations with larger legal departments pay attention to diversity in their own business and, therefore, pay attention to the outside people they hire. Just as their companies pay attention to diversity when they do subcontracting and when they hire rank-and-file employees. Spaeth: I’d bet if you put on a panel of those GCs here, you’d find more men in the audience.

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