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Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati announced last Friday it has tapped 15-year veteran Donna Petkanics to succeed Alan Austin as the firm’s managing director of operations. Petkanics is the first woman to head Wilson’s day-to-day operations, and with her elevation, she joins a small but growing circle of women in top management positions at Bay Area law firms. Petkanics, 42, is a Wilson veteran who started with the firm as a summer associate in its Palo Alto, Calif. office, while attending Boalt Hall School of Law 15 years ago. She has long enjoyed a reputation as a thorough and talented lawyer among her Wilson colleagues, but her leadership strengths were on prominent display last summer when she lead the legal team charged with spinning Agilent Technologies out of Hewlett-Packard and taking it public. Firm chairman Larry Sonsini said Wilson strives for diversity in its ranks, but added that Petkanics is one of the firm’s top securities lawyers and has served in numerous management roles. “It was only a matter of course of someone getting the experience under their belt,” Sonsini said. In recent years, women have increasingly taken on high-profile spots at Bay Area firms. Perhaps the most visible woman is Mary Cranston, the chairwoman of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro. Serving with her is Marina Park, the managing partner of the firm. Margaret Kavalaris is the MP of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich’s Palo Alto office. Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s five-member management committee includes two women, including top technology lawyer Therese Mrozek, who had managed the firm’s Palo Alto office. At Cooley Godward, however, just one of the firm’s 10 management committee members is a woman. The Cooley lawyer, Janet Cullum, an intellectual property partner in Palo Alto, said times are changing, and that Petkanics’ appointment is an example of further inroads woman can make. “We have so many talented women coming up that the [disproportionate number]we have today will go away,” Cullum said. The ranks of women lawyers nationally are swelling, according to surveys done by the National Association for Law Placement and The National Law Journal, an affiliate of Law.com. In 1998, The National Law Journal found, women made up 30.3 percent of lawyers nationwide and 15.7 percent of partners. In 1999, the NALP found that women partners comprised 16.79 percent of the lawyers among law firms surveyed. Wilson Sonsini, with revenues last year of nearly $300 million, ranks above the national average, however. According to the firm, 32 percent, or 217, of its 676 lawyers are women and 18 percent, or 24, of its 135 partners are women. Petkanics is only the fourth person to fill the role as a managing partner or head of operations since founding partner John Wilson retired in 1983. Petkanics said her appointment was a product of her years working closely alongside Sonsini and participating in firm management. A member of Wilson’s management committee in 1996 and 1997, Petkanics was also associate managing partner under Austin. Austin relinquished the title of managing partner last month when the firm revamped its management structure. Austin announced last month he’s leaving in July to join the venture capital firm Accel Partners, prompting his colleagues at Wilson to cast about for someone to take his newly restructured role as head of operations. In her new leadership role, Petkanics said she will focus on overall efficiency as the firm continues to grow. “I think there’s great opportunity to have an influence on the infrastructure that’s going to take us to ever greater stages of success,” Petkanics said. Petkanics said she’s honored to be a role model as more women of her generation “hit their stride,” particularly in Silicon Valley. “One of the best things about the Valley and the world we live in here is that people are progressive and are judged by their merits,” Petkanics said. “I’m proud of my achievements, where I am, and being a good, strong role model is an important role to play.”

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