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When Jerry Clements learned that she would be going to law school in 1979, she told her grandmother the good news. The response she got has stuck with her ever since. “She asked me, ‘Are you going to be a legal secretary?’ ” recalls Clements, now a partner in Locke Liddell & Sapp in Dallas. The grandmother’s question reflects the stereotypes that women faced in the 1970s, a time when a female attorney was a rarity. Laura Franze, a partner in the Dallas office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and one of three women on the firm’s management committee, says today the labor and employment law field is pretty equally divided between men and women. “But in 1979, I was the first woman everywhere I went,” says Franze, who began her career as a labor lawyer in Ohio and frequently found herself facing hard-nosed union representatives in the union-boosting Buckeye State who weren’t accustomed to negotiating with a woman. “I had the classic situations where I was sitting across the table from union representatives who called me ‘honey,’ ” Franze says. “ In Ohio, that wasn’t a Southern expression of endearment. They were putting me in my place.” Kimberly Yelkin, a partner in the Austin office of Gardere Wynne Sewell and one of three women on the firm’s 13-member partners board, says she was the only female attorney in the district attorney’s office in Omaha, Neb., where she began her career after graduating from Creighton University School of Law in 1980. “Today, a majority are women in that office,” Yelkin says. Clements, Franze and Yelkin were among a large group of women who decided in the 1970s that they wanted careers in the legal profession and began seeking admission to law schools around the country. According to the American Bar Association, women made up only 8 percent of the law school enrollment in 1970. But by 1980, women comprised 34 percent of the enrollment, and today about half the students in law schools are women, the ABA’s figures show. When it comes to women and the law, law school enrollment figures aren’t the only things that have changed drastically over the past three decades. With more and more female attorneys around, firm management — once considered a men-only club — is opening up to women. A number of major firms in Texas have women on their management teams. “The role of women in law is increasing,” says Tracie Renfroe, a partner in Bracewell & Patterson in Houston and one of seven members of the approximately 350-lawyer firm’s management committee. “Women in the courtroom, women in the boardroom — it’s not an issue anymore,” says Renfroe, who graduated from Baylor University School of Law in 1985. The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s report titled “A Snapshot of Women in the Law in the Year 2000″ noted that only 5 percent of the managing partners of large firms are women. One example of firm leadership is Lisa Pennington, a 1983 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, who has served as managing partner of the Houston office of Baker & Hostetler for the past two-and-a-half years. The hardest thing is to make the tough decisions regarding the advancement of associates or the termination of an attorney, Pennington says. The good part of the job, she says, is being responsible for helping the office. Pennington says she spends much of her time on lateral recruiting for partners. “That is a very important job,” she says. “If we don’t get the right people, it can hurt the firm.” In Baker & Hostetler’s Houston office, 32 percent of the approximately 50 attorneys are women, Pennington says. It’s still rare to see a woman serving as the managing partner of a firm. Of the 25 largest Texas firms, none has a female managing partner. Harriet Miers gave up her job as co-managing partner of Locke Liddell in January 2001, when President George W. Bush asked her to become his assistant. Clements says Miers led the way, opening doors for other women to get into management at Locke Liddell. Women also are leaders outside of their firms. Lynne Liberato, a partner in Haynes and Boone in Houston and one of three women on the firm’s board of directors, says she’s seen a change in attitude toward women in the law in the past five years. Liberato says she was a novelty because she became the first woman to serve as president of the Houston Bar Association in 1994. “Everywhere I went, that’s how I was introduced — as the first woman president of the Houston Bar Association. But when I became president of the State Bar of Texas [in 2000], I was the third woman in that position, and it was no big deal,” Liberato says. “Now, the fact you’re a woman is secondary to the skills you can bring to the projects you’re trying to accomplish.” Each woman had professional goals in mind as to what she wanted to accomplish when she decided to go into law. Liberato says she decided to go to law school because she wanted to improve her skills as a journalist. She had worked at the Huntsville Item, the Commerce Journal and KHOU-TV in Houston and was employed in public relations for Shell Oil Co. while attending South Texas College of Law, Liberato says. “After I got there [law school], I stopped thinking of myself as a journalist and started thinking of myself as a future lawyer,” she says. Liberato says her appointment to the board of directors at Haynes and Boone was accomplished before she knew about it. When the firm’s executive committee decided to set up the board, it sent a memo announcing the new directors, she says. “I just got a memo and it said, ‘Here’s the new board of directors and I was on it,’ ” Liberato says. Clements says she spent four years as a special education teacher. Teaching was one of the jobs considered appropriate for women in the 1970s, but Clements says in the late ’70s she decided that she was going to follow her dreams and study law. “That was something I always wanted to do, to be a lawyer,” Clements says. “I was fortunate to come of age when all the myths got shattered.” Linda Addison, a partner in the Houston office of Fulbright & Jaworski and the only woman on the firm’s executive committee, says practicing law was part of her family’s tradition. Her father and a grandfather were lawyers in Poland. Her parents, Marcus and Theresa Leuchter, were Holocaust survivors, having endured being held separately in two German concentration camps. Addison says she always respected the rule of law; her parents’ experience illustrates what can happen when the rule of law is ignored. That was another reason she decided to become a lawyer, Addison says. And, like other women who grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the courtroom victories of fictional television lawyer Perry Mason attracted Addison. “I wanted to be Perry Mason,” she says. Addison graduated from UT law school in 1976. Mason’s exploits also attracted Marie Yeates to the legal profession. “I grew up reading Perry Mason books and thinking that was a really cool thing to do,” says Yeates, a partner in the Houston office of Vinson & Elkins and one of three women on the firm’s management committee. Yeates, a 1980 graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Law, says she believed early in her career that women had to do twice what men had to do to get ahead in a firm. “I felt like to stand out, you had to go at it harder,” she says. “I don’t think that’s the case any more.” THE FUTURE As chair of the Women’s Development Council at V&E, Yeates works to make it easier for women to practice at the firm. Through its women’s initiative, V&E has “fine-tuned” the firm’s policy on flexible work arrangements for lawyers who are trying to balance their career with family responsibilities, she says. The other women in firm management also focus some of their time and attention on helping women lawyers. “The key for me is being able to mentor the women lawyers who come to our firm as summer law clerks,” says Clements, of Locke Liddell. Clements says Locke Liddell tries to assign a partner or senior associate to all of its new lawyers, men and women. What she tries to do, Clements says, is give the women lawyers working under her an opportunity to interact and develop relationships with clients. Client relationships are the key to success for anybody, she says. “Most of my mentors were men because there weren’t any women [lawyers]. I try very hard to be supportive of women and be supportive of the issues they have,” says Gardere’s Yelkin. Franze, a 1979 graduate of the Duke University School of Law, says Akin, Gump has a woman-to-woman mentoring program. Through the program, mentors assist women lawyers in avoiding blockages in the road, bouncing back from the bumps and becoming rainmakers, she says. “In big law firms, the real power comes from strong relationships with clients and being a rainmaker,” someone who brings more work to the firm than he or she can do, Franze says. “A lot of women think that’s not their forte, that they don’t have the skills to do it.” Traditionally, rain-making has been seen as something done at football games and on the golf course, Franze says. That could be seen as a reason a woman would not be good at rainmaking, she says. But Franze says there are different ways of bringing in business, and she believes women can do it. Serving on their firms’ management teams can increase a woman’s workload. “To keep up on my docket requires I go the extra mile, working evenings and weekends,” says Renfroe, of Bracewell & Patterson. “But it’s worth it. We’re helping to define the direction the firm is moving in and helping to improve the firm in every respect.” Liberato, the mother of two teen-age boys, says her work on the board takes her away from her family less than her service as the state Bar’s president. “Before I had two jobs; now I have one with extended responsibilities,” she says. Yelkin, a single mother who adopted her daughter from Russia, says she has to travel more since her appointment to Gardere’s partners board. And that means she has to have a nanny more often, she says. Serving on the board is worthwhile, Yelkin says, because she can see the direction that the firm is taking. She says one of her roles on the board is serving on the planning committee that is developing a strategy for the future of the firm. While being on the board is more work, Liberato says, it also makes it easier for her to practice law. “I have more knowledge about how things work [within the firm] and how to get things done,” she says. “There’s also prestige associated with it that’s generally helpful inside and outside the firm.” Yelkin, who moved from Akin Gump to Gardere in May, did not become a member of her new firm’s partners board until September. Her newness to the firm provides a perspective that is different from the other board members, she says. Her 13 years of experience at Akin Gump enable her to communicate how that firm is managed and develops its strategy, Yelkin says. Clements, who has served on Locke Liddell’s management committee since the fall of 1998 and heads the firm’s approximately 200-lawyer litigation section, says her goal is to do all she can to assure that the firm is vibrant today and in the future. Notes Clements: “I want to make sure everyone at the firm has the same opportunities that I’ve had over the last 20 years.”

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